There have recently been several racially motivated hate crimes that have received national attention. Trayvon Martin and the recent Tulsa shootings come quickly to mind. It may seem that there has been an increasing number of these within the past few years, and this observation is not an illusion. According to hate crime statistics published by the FBI, crimes based on an anti-black racial bias have increased as a proportion to the number of racial hate crimes committed.
From 1996 to 2007, the percentage of racial hate crimes committed due to anti-black sentiments was never above 70% (although it did come close at 69.7% in 1996). Since 2008, this percentage has topped 70% every year, peaking at 72.9% in 2008. This regrettable trend could possibly be attributed to several factors.
The first of these factors is the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. Despite much of the nation rejoicing in the election of an African American president after centuries of racism in America, many of us wondered shortly after the election of Barack Obama whether he would become the next president to be assassinated, the victim of a racist hate crime. While this has clearly not been the case, the historic event also seems to have triggered less favorable responses from those with anti-black sentiments: the committing of racially motivated hate crimes.
The second major factor that could be influencing the higher rate of hate crimes toward African Americans is the increasing proportion of minorities in the United States population, although this factor would presumably be affecting hate crimes toward other minority races as well (such as the recent murder of Shamai Alawadi). Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of the American population in the white racial category has been steadily declining since the 1930s, while the black and Hispanic populations have continued to grow significantly.
This fact could be causing uneasiness among whites about becoming a minority in this country, who may feel that minorities are encroaching on their historical territory and releasing their anger through violence.
While neither of these factors has been formally studied in conjunction with racial hate crimes, they both have a definite empirical correlation to the rise in racial hate crimes in recent years. I’m sure many people would like to point out that the actual number of victims of anti-black crimes has been generally declining throughout the past decade. This fact is indeed true (and can be found on the same data tables produced by the FBI), but should not be considered as a means to prove that racially motivated crimes have not increased.
The more recent racial crimes have simply been more concentrated on crimes that only affect one victim, such as rape or murder, rather than more broad offenses that may affect larger groups of people. Despite the number of victims decreasing, the nature of such hate crimes has grown more violent, thus making them much more serious than those of previous years. Take for example the cases of 2009, when there were eight racially motivated murders and nine racially motivated rapes, and 2006, when there were only three people murdered and six people raped for racial reasons. There were clearly more violent crimes occurring in 2009 than 2006, but the number of victims was much lower in 2009 (4793 and 5449, respectively). For this reason, the quantitative number of victims cannot be used as an accurate measure of racially motivated criminal activity.
The situation of more frequent and violent hate crimes clearly needs to be addressed by policymaking officials, although their power in this circumstance is unfortunately limited. The only viable option for reducing hate crimes is to increase the severity of punishment offenders receive. A hate crime perpetrator should be subject to an automatic 10% to 20% increase in the jail time to be served or the fine to be paid. This would help deter them from committing future hate crimes as well as to discourage other potential offenders. Along with this initiative, law enforcement authorities should make sure each crime that has a possibility of being committed due to racial bias is thoroughly investigated so that appropriate action can be taken.
Since 2008, hate crimes against the African American population have increased to a higher level than any time in the previous decade. This increase in hate crimes motivated by racial bias is both unfortunate and unacceptable. Congress and the Obama administration should take steps to decrease the frequency of these crimes by enhancing federal legislation on the subject, in the hopes that it would prevent the continued occurrence of these types of crimes.