The 7,462 hate crime incidents reported to the FBI in 2002 represented a drop of nearly 25 percent from the 9,730 reported in 2001, the agency said Wednesday. The number also was below the 8,063 incidents recorded in 2000.
There were 155 hate crime incidents listed as anti-Islamic last year, down sharply from the 481 reported in 2001, when the nation suffered its worst-ever terrorist attack at the hands of Muslim extremists.
In addition, there were 622 hate crime incidents listed in 2002 against ethnic groups that include people of Middle Eastern descent, down from 1,500 in 2001. There were 931 anti-Jewish incidents in 2002, slightly below the number in 2001.
Arab-American and Muslim advocates agreed that hate crimes dropped from 2001 to 2002. But they said these people still suffer disproportionate discrimination in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks and the Iraq war.
"There's an uneasy relationship between the Muslim community and law enforcement," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Many Arab-Americans and Muslims fail to report crimes for fear of government harassment, said Dalia Hashad, attorney advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union.
People have grown fearful of contacting the FBI or local police because of government policies like forced registration of mainly Middle Eastern men, perceptions of police profiling in terrorist investigations and more restrictive immigration rules.
"Bringing yourself to the attention of the government if you are Arab or Muslim in this country puts you at risk of being questioned," Hashad said. "You see people less willing to trust the government."
Hooper said that even if anti-Islam hate crime has waned, people who appear Arab or Muslim still are confronted more often than in the past with indignities such as lack of service or tougher scrutiny at airports.
"It's more your everyday, run-of-the-mill discrimination that Muslims are feeling," he said.
For a crime to involve hate, authorities must show a bias by the offender against the victim's race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability. The hate crime numbers are based on reports to the FBI from more than 12,000 state and local law enforcement agencies.
By Curt Anderson