Why Hate Crimes Have Been Rising in the U.S. in 2020

by Kristin Cho

Photo Credit: Michael Veltman

Although hate crimes are not a new concept in society, they have become more prominent through the use of media. As many people know, hate crimes—motivated by biases like preconceived negative stigma—are offenses that affect the security of individuals, communities and societies though threats, assault and sometimes even murder. They are known to inflict the most psychological distress, specifically leading to post-traumatic stress, safety concerns, anxiety, etc. Yet statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics report that most of the victims of hate crimes from 2004 to 2015 chose not to report to law enforcement. Despite the grave consequences of racially-motivated offences, why is the severity of these crimes not well-addressed and why are these wrongdoings constantly on the rise with no solution to erase them? 

Since the breakout of COVID-19, a surge of Asian Americans have reported racially-motivated hate crimes in the United States. On social media, where COVID-related hate speech is prevalent, derogatory language has spread extensively online from politicians and leaders. Terms like the “Chinese virus” have created a rise in anti-Asian sentiments and are spreading xenophobia. Despite now refraining to use offensive terms on his platforms, President Donald Trump may have been a factor encouraging the use of language that fuelled hate speech in the United States over the past few months. By mid April, an online reporting center announced by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and Chinese for Affirmative Acive announced a report of almost 1,500 reports of incidents of racism, hate speech, discrimination, and physical attacks against Asians in a short span of  33 days. Cultural stigmatization and “othering” (the marginalization of non-dominant groups by dominant groups) has fostered an environment that normalizes abuse; however, there has been no specific governmental response to protect Asians who are vulnerable. The government has done little to stop the backlash and has not announced efforts to prevent the targeting of Asians, despite having experience in stopping bias incidents in previous occasions like after the SARS outbreak and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Apart from the global pandemic, hate crimes typically cluster around big political moments, in other words, during election years. According to FBI’s data, hate crimes spike on a national level before and after election day. “When people are getting used to vocalizing their opinions on national politics, it makes it easier to voice opinions about foreigners, people of different religions or sexual orientation,” said Leonard Trinh, Deputy District Attorney. These hate crimes send a message that voting is dangerous, which deters members of marginalized groups from participating in democratic processes. Beyond political events, this violence divides citizens and pits them against each other.

Whether experienced directly or indirectly, hate crimes intensify feelings of vulnerability and anxiety. These emotions then increase emotional reactions that instigate behavioral responses like having constant avoidance, proactive behaviours to even having safety concerns. Practical solutions may be adopting principles of community policing including outreach to targeted groups, incentivization to report hate crimes, accessible and effective services that encourage accurate and proactive reporting. Seeking accurate reporting of hate crimes is especially important: hate crimes are overwhelmingly violent  and impactful to the entirety of communities. The underreporting of these issues spreads fear and distrust. More than half the cases are never reported to the police. Agencies are not even required to participate in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, which gathers and compiles crime data from law enforcement to produce the data set on which the FBI hate crime report is based. So the FBI’s hate crime report each year vastly undermines the extent of the problem. Analysts say it is unclear to what extent the pandemic might skew trends for the FBI’s 2020 count. 

There is no doubt that the 2020 count would have risen from 2019, which holds the highest record since government tracking started in the early 1990s. To prevent these issues which are detrimental to communities, the government must first take proactive action towards mitigation. Individuals can also help by identifying, researching, and responding to these recurring problems.

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