Hate crime incidents in the United States rose last year by almost 8 percent, the FBI reported Monday, as racial prejudice continued to account for more than half the reported instances.
Police across the nation reported 7,722 criminal incidents in 2006 targeting victims or property as a result of prejudice against a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic or national origin or physical or mental disability.
That was up 7.8 percent from the 7,163 incidents reported in 2005.
More than half of the victims were targeted because of their race, said CBS News correspondent Stephanie Lambidakis, and almost 60 percent of all known offenders are white.
Heidi Beirick of the Southern Poverty Law Center says the numbers are probably higher than that.
"It's unfortunate that the numbers went up by almost 8 percent, but the truth is the FBI Hate Crimes statistics severely undercounts the number of hate crimes that we have in the United States every year," she told CBS News.
That's because only 12,600 of the nation's more than 17,000 local, county, state and federal police agencies - roughly three-quarters - participated in the hate crime reporting program in 2006.
Consequently, the FBI figures did not contain highly publicized incidents in late 2006 at Jena, a small town in Louisiana, which involved hanging nooses reminiscent of those used in the lynching of black people in an earlier time and beatings of white students by black youngsters in retaliation, because neither Jena nor LaSalle Parish (the county where the town is) were among the agencies reporting.
The report's release comes just days after thousands of civil rights advocates literally surrounded the Justice Department building, claiming that lax federal prosecution has fuelled an outbreak of noose-hanging incidents around the country.
The Jena case began in August 2006 after a black student sat under a tree known as a gathering spot for white students. Three white students later hung nooses from the tree. They were suspended by the school but not prosecuted. Six black teenagers, however, were charged by LaSalle Parish prosecutor Reed Walters with attempted second-degree murder of a white student who was beaten unconscious in December 2006. The charges have since been reduced to aggravated second-degree assault, but civil rights protesters have complained that no charges were filed against the white students who hung the nooses.
"The FBI report confirms what we have been saying for many months about the severe increase in hate crimes," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a leading civil rights leader. "What is not reported, however, is the lack of prosecution and serious investigation by the Justice Department to counter this increase in hate crimes." Sharpton urged Attorney General Michael Mukasey to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights leaders to discuss the matter.
Mukasey is pledging aggressive hate crime investigations, but concedes there are limits in bringing charges in some hate crime cases, reports Lambidakis.
The department said it investigated the Jena incident but decided not to prosecute because the federal government does not typically bring hate crime charges against juveniles.
The FBI report does not break out the number of noose incidents, but the two most frequent hate crimes in 2006 were property damage or vandalism (2,911 offenses), and intimidation (2,046 offenses). There were 860 aggravated assaults and 1,447 simple assaults, three murders, six rapes and 41 incidents of arson. Other offenses included robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.
The 7,722 criminal hate crime incidents involved 9,080 specific criminal offenses, including 5,449 against individuals, 3,593 against property, and 38 classified as against society at large. An incident can involve attacks on both people and property.
As has happened since the FBI began collecting hate crime data in 1991, the most frequent motivation was racial bias, accounting for 51.8 percent of the incidents in 2006. That was down slightly from the 54.7 percent in 2005.
Also in 2006, religious prejudice was blamed for 18.9 percent of the incidents; sexual orientation prejudice for 15.5 percent; and ethnic or national origin for 12.7 percent.
Of the 7,330 offenders identified by police, 58.6 percent were white, 20.6 percent were black, 12.9 percent were of unknown racial background and other races accounted for the remainder.
The greatest percentage of incidents, 31 percent, occurred near residences or homes. Another 18 percent occurred on highways or streets, 12.2 percent at colleges or schools, 6.1 percent in parking lots or garages, 3.9 percent at churches, synagogues or temples. The remainder occurred at other specific locations, multiple locations or unknown locations.
Lack of full participation by the more than 17,000 police agencies around the nation somewhat undermines year-to-year comparisons.
For instance, in 2004, 12,711 agencies reported 7,649 incidents. In 2005, only 12,417 agencies reported and incidents dropped 6 percent to 7,163. But in 2006, agencies reporting rose to 12,620 and incidents climbed 7.8 percent to 7,722.
For more information visit FBI Hate Crime Statistics