Hate-crime killings set a record in 2019, new FBI data reveals

Swaminarayan Temple in Louisville, Kentucky, announcing a meeting on Facebook, to counter hate crime after the building was vandalized and idols defaced. (Photo: Facebook)

Hate-crime murders reached a record last year in the United States, due in large part to the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that officials say was motivated by anti-immigrant bias, according to new figures released Monday by the FBI.

There were 51 hate crime killings in 2019, the highest number since the FBI began tabulating such figures in the early 1990s.

The 2019 data also showed a significant increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes, rising 14% from the prior year, which accounted for almost all growth in religiously motivated bias crimes. Bias crimes targeting Muslims declined slightly, while those targeting Christians remained nearly flat.

While religiously motivated hate crimes increased, those targeting people for their race, ethnicity or ancestry declined slightly overall – despite the bloodshed in Texas.

The FBI’s annual report showed that, broadly, hate crimes rose 2.7% in 2019, after declining slightly the year before. Bias crimes targeting people for their sexual orientation stayed level, with 1,195 reported incidents.

The FBI’s hate crimes data is the most comprehensive in the country, but critics say it offers an incomplete portrait of bias incidents due to the small percentage of police agencies that report such crimes to the FBI.

Last year’s data also marked a downturn in the overall number of police agencies providing crime data to the FBI, from 16,039 to 15,558. And within that smaller figure, only 2,172, or 14%, reported one or more hate crimes occurring in their jurisdiction. Advocates say that suggests these types of crimes are still underreported.

Margaret Huang, the president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, said the figures “do not tell the full story. Hate crimes are consistently underreported due to the federal government’s failure to mandate hate crime data collection at the state and local levels.”

The Aug. 3, 2019, shooting in El Paso left 22 dead and injured dozens of others. The man charged in that shooting confessed after his arrest and, according to authorities, said he was targeting “Mexicans.” Officials said the accused gunman wrote an online statement beforehand that denounced immigrants.

A 23rd victim of the shooting, 36-year-old Guillermo Garcia, died this year from injuries sustained in the shooting. Garcia was at the Walmart to raise money for his daughter’s soccer team, and was shot three times while attempting to protect his family from the gunfire, according to local reports.

The accused gunman, who was 21 years old at the time of the shooting, has been charged in both state and federal court, and faces the prospect of the death penalty if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.

The El Paso shooting was one of 18 bias-motivated incidents that resulted in death last year, according to FBI data, compared to 13 the year before. Even without the Texas spree shooting, the number of people killed in bias attacks last year still increased, from 24 to 29.

The data also show how mass shootings have played a large role in hate-motivated murder and manslaughter in the last two years. In 2018, nearly half of those killed in hate crimes were due to a single incident: a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in which officials say the gunmen set out to kill Jewish people.

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