There are an estimated 250,000 hate crimes a year, but you wouldn’t know it to look at city statistics. According to an Associated Press investigation, about 17 percent of all city and county law enforcement agencies across the country have not submitted a single hate crime report to the FBI’s annual crime tally in the past six years. The majority of the more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments identified by the AP were located in small towns, but the list also included the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, which represents Portland, Oregon, and departments in Birmingham, Alabama; Jackson, Mississippi; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
In Jackson, for example, at least 10 people were sentenced last year in a conspiracy to carry out hate crimes against homeless and intoxicated black men, including the death of James Craig Anderson, a black man who was run down and beaten by a group of white teenagers in June 2011. But Jackson Police have not filed a single hate crime report.
“Without a diagnosis, we don’t know how serious the illness is. And without a diagnosis, there is no prescription. And without a prescription, there is no healing,” the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, said. “We need the reporting to happen.”
The FBI catalogs between 5,000 and 7,000 hate crime incidents each year. A hate crime is defined as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
Local departments file reports voluntarily, although they are encouraged to submit reports even if they list zero hate crimes. Altogether, the AP reports, between 2009 and 2014, there were 16 states in which more than 25 percent of law enforcement agencies did not appear—including 64 percent of agencies in Mississippi and 59 percent in Louisiana.
“If these crimes are never really counted, it’s a way of saying they are not important,” said Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “For many black people, it’s another form of being victimized. It’s a way of saying your life doesn’t matter.”
Many victims of hate crimes, however, also do not report them—either out of fear of reprisals or that “police could not or would not help,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 2012, just 40 percent of the “hate crime victimizations” the agency recorded were reported to authorities.
“‘Keep your eyes closed and the problem will go away,’” S. Gulbarg Singh Basi, chairman of the American Sikh Council, told the AP. “I’m not saying that is right, but quite a few people think that.”