The recent murder of three black people in Jacksonville, Florida, drew attention to a grim reality that researchers have long documented: Black Americans are the most frequent victims of racially motivated hate crimes in the United States.
A new report released on Tuesday confirms this trend, showing that black people were the target of more than a fifth of all hate crimes reported in major US cities last year, the highest proportion of any group.
The report, based on police data analyzed by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, finds hate crimes targeting black people decreased by an average of 6% last year, after increasing in the previous two years.
But the trend was not uniform across the country, and many cities and states reported their worst numbers on record.
Of the 42 cities studied by the center, more than half have seen an increase in hate crimes against black people, with some reaching historic highs. New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and Sacramento, California all set modern records.
Five states – Colorado, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and Utah – also broke their records for hate crimes against black people, while incidents in California and New York – both with a large black population – grew by more than 20%, according to the report.
Historically, African Americans have been the most frequent victims of hate crimes in the United States, and that hasn’t changed in the past year.
The report finds they were the target of 22% of all hate crimes in 2022, the highest share of any group. In 2021, this share reached 31%.
Jews came in second last year, with 16% of all hate incidents, followed by gay men, with 12%, and white people, with 8.5%, according to the report.
Overall, police-reported hate crimes in all 42 U.S. cities increased 10% in 2022. This is on top of a nearly 31% national increase seen in 2021.
Frequent targets of hate crimes
The report comes just days after a white gunman killed two black men and a black woman at a Florida variety store in a hate-fueled rampage.
The 21-year-old shooter, who took his own life after the murders, left behind a racist speech in which he expressed his hatred towards black people. A gun he used in the attack had swastikas drawn on it.
“Black people remain the most frequent target not only of these extremist killers, but also the most frequent target of hate crimes in general every year since the data was collected, up to our 2023 subtotals,” said Brian Levin, Center Director. for the study on hate and extremism and the lead author of the report.
The FBI, which has been collecting hate crime data since 1991, said it was investigating the Jacksonville shooting, considering it an anti-black hate crime.
“From all we know today, this was a targeted attack, a racially motivated hate crime,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a call on Monday. with civil rights advocates and law enforcement officials.
The shooting was not the first of its kind in Jacksonville this year.
In May, three white men were charged in connection with the shooting death of a 39-year-old black man in downtown Jacksonville.
Legin said the vast majority of racially motivated killings over the past five years have been perpetrated by white supremacists and right-wing ideologues.
The cycle is repeating itself this year, he said.
“We expect this murderous cycle to continue, especially as we enter a volatile election period,” Levin said. “These atrocities are often perpetrated by angry young adult males who have recently acquired weapons, are acting in their home state and refer to statements of the ‘replacement’ doctrine of previous killers.”
The replacement theory, which asserts that non-white immigrants are brought to the United States to “replace” white people, inspired a white gunman to shoot and kill 10 black people in May 2022 in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Even though the total number of extremist-motivated homicides fell last year, the numbers “ignore the many foiled plots and attacks that unfortunately could have dramatically increased the death toll,” Levin said.
He attributed the increase in hate crimes to several factors, including the proliferation of political and online rhetoric that promotes bigotry, stereotypes and conspiracy theories.
“The pervasiveness and infiltration of hateful rhetoric of varying depths now into the mainstream of sociopolitical discourse demonizes whole groups of people and creates a deep well,” Levin said.