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2020 saw highest number of reported hate crimes in two decades, updated FBI data shows

The number of hate crimes reported in 2020 was the highest recorded in two decades, according to updated FBI data released Monday. The FBI revealed its amended hate crime statistics for fiscal year 2020 following a technical submission error that had excluded some data from Ohio in the agency's original release in August. The FBI has since addressed the technical challenge in the state's reporting system.

Law enforcement agencies submitted reports for 8,263 criminal incidents and 11,129 related offenses motivated by biases toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity. The updated release reflects an increase in more than 500 hate crime incidents with the inclusion of the new data.

The total number of criminal incidents represents a 16% increase from 2019 and the highest number of hate crime incidents recorded since 2001, a year that documented 9,730 incidents and a sharp rise in hate crimes directed toward perceived Muslim Americans in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

In 2020, updated data shows that 8,052 crimes motivated by one kind of bias, deemed single-bias incidents, took place and involved 11,126 victims. In 2019, the FBI recorded 7,103 single-bias incidents involving 8,552 victims total.

In total, nearly 62% of hate crimes were tied to  an individual's race nationwide, according to the FBI.

As in past years, Black Americans made up the largest share of individuals targeted because of their race or ethnicity, while Jewish Americans represented the group most frequently targeted over religious bias.

But last year, individuals of Asian descent saw a 73% increase in hate crimes, fueled in part by racist stereotypes linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, 279 anti-Asian hate crime incidents were reported, compared to 161 in 2019.

Following rare, bipartisan support by Congress, President Biden signed "the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act" in May to address the uptick in violence, particularly against Asian Americans. The legislation directed the Department of Justice to designate a point person to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19, authorized state and local grants for hate crime-reduction programs and boosted public reporting resources in multiple languages online.

Since then, Attorney General Merrick Garland has named Rachel Rossi to be the department's hate-crimes coordinator, and directed Jim Felte, head of the department's civil rights division's criminal section, to oversee an expedited federal review of hate crimes. 

According to Garland, the Justice Department has charged more than 17 defendants with federal hate crimes over the past six months, including three men indicted following the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was shot while jogging, last year.

"Though the Justice Department's work to address unlawful acts of hate has a deep history, it remains an immediate and pressing charge that constantly requires new thinking," the attorney general said Monday, during a virtual conference centered on combating hate. 

In its latest release, the FBI also indicated 20% of the hate crimes targeted an individual's sexual orientation while 13% targeted their religion. More than half of all offenders were White.

Of the 7,426 hate crime offenses reported and classified as crimes in 2020, more than half of those witnessed were for intimidation, while nearly 18% represented simple assault, and 18% were aggravated assault. In total, 22 murders and 19 rapes were recorded as hate crimes by the FBI."

But incomplete participation has long plagued the FBI's hate crime program, which remains voluntary for the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies, nationwide.

The bureau is offering nationwide incentives like grants and more training and to help improve participation in its annual hate crime survey.

"I think the picture we have is limited based on participation and the data we received. I'm certainly aware of the number of agencies that haven't participated," Assistant Director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division Michael Christman told CBS News, last month.

The FBI said  15,138 law enforcement agencies submitted hate crime data to the bureau. But Christman suggested that even among those who submit data, some may not be providing complete reporting of hate crimes.

"I'm aware of the number of agencies that have submitted zero incidents again and again," Christman continued. "It is certainly a priority for us to develop innovative and creative ways to really get better at obtaining this data so that we can have a full picture of hate crimes in the United States, and certainly accountability and transparency. And I think better policing will be the result."

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