ELEVEN YEARS AGO, Congress passed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA), mandating the collection of data about transgressions motivated by an offender’s bias against a victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Commissioned by the Attorney General, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program developed a system to compile and classify this information. The crimes tallied would include both personal offenses (such as murder, rape, assault, and intimidation), and property offenses (such as robbery, burglary, theft, arson, and vandalism). In 1994, incidents of bias against persons with disabilities were added as a newly counted category of hate crimes.
The prospect of quantifying the incidence of hate crimes was enthusiastically welcomed by our nation’s civilrights establishment, which in recent years has devoted much time and energy to the task of condemning the supposedly widespread nature of whiteonblack attacks. As U.S. Civil Rights Commission chair Mary Frances Berry puts it, "The primary explanation for racially motivated violence against blacks has been the need of a segment of the white population to preserve [its] belief in the inferiority of blacks, and to maintain the social and political subordination of an historically outcast group by any means, including violence." Ms. Berry’s message closely resembles that of Al Sharpton, who has characterized whiteonblack violence as "a national epidemic." In a similar vein, Jesse Jackson asserts that blacks are not only "despised," but are actually "hunted for sport."
Many academics have joined the chorus as well. University of California sociology professor Dr. Robert Staples laments what he calls "a sort of genocide targeting young black males." African American Studies professor Vivian Gordon calls black men "a hunted and endangered species." And Ivy League professor Cornel West refers to blacks as our country’s "exemplary targets of racial hatred."
Let us examine these claims under the light of what the facts actually show. In 1999, lawenforcement agencies nationwide reported a total of 7,876 hate crimes to the FBI, of which 4,295 (or 55 percent) were motivated by racial bias. Because some of those victimizations involved more than one offense (e.g., assault and robbery), the 4,295 incidents actually encompassed 5,240 separate offenses. If we exclude all racially motivated offenses whose perpetrators are categorized as being of "unknown race," and focus specifically on those offenses definitely involving both blacks and whites, we find that blacks were victims of 2,030 racially motivated offenses committed by whites, while whites were victims of 524 racially motivated offenses committed by blacks. Thus whites were responsible for 79.5 percent of these interracial hate crimes, and blacks 20.5 percent.
While this may appear to support the popular assertion that whites are likelier than blacks to commit hate crimes, we must remember that the total population of nonHispanic whites is about 6 times larger than the total population of nonHispanic blacks. When we factor this population disparity into the equation, we find that the "average" black is actually about 50 percent likelier than his or her white counterpart to commit what is classified as a racially motivated hate crime. Because this fact so radically contradicts most Americans’ prevailing worldview, one would think it might be big news deemed worthy of discussion by activists and academics alike. But in fact these are among the most underpublicized numbers in all of criminal justice.
Another vital fact to consider is that FBI hatecrime statistics list "Hispanics" as a category of victims (of crimes motivated by ethnicity or national origin), but not as a category of offenders. Instead, Hispanic offenders are lumped together with whites. In other words, the current hatecrime classification system allows for Hispanics to be counted as victims of hate crimes, but never as perpetrators of such crimes. This, of course, artificially inflates the share of hate crimes committed by "whites."
Finally, we must note that while very few of those crimes that cross racial lines are categorized as hate crimes, whiteonblack offenses of that nature are far likelier to be called hate crimes than are blackonwhite offenses.
For instance, in October 1999, a white man named Troy Knapp was attacked by a mob of black men wielding pipes and trash cans, while riding his bike with a companion in Charleston, SC. Knapp was beaten so severely that part of his skull and brain had to be removed, leaving him barely functional.
Seventeen suspects were arrested and charged with seconddegree lynching. However, local prosecutor David Schwacke commented, "We haven't been able to establish hate as a motive."
According to a Fox News report, Schwacke, "acknowledged that if it had been 17 white suspects and two black victims, hate would more likely be considered a motive." The report went on to note that, "Federal hatecrime law could apply in this case, but seven months after the incident the U.S. attorney's office in South Carolina is not even considering charges."
It is impossible to know how many potential blackonwhite hate crimes have been misreported in this fashion. But, given the political pressure on police and prosecutors from the civil rights establishment, the practice is probably widespread.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that in 1999, there were about 657,008 blackonwhite crimes of violence, as compared to some 91,051 of the whiteonblack variety. Yet although blackperpetrated interracial crimes outnumbered whiteperpetrated interracial crimes by a ratio of about 7.2 to 1, the official hatecrime statistics showed white offenders outnumbering black offenders by a 4 to 1 margin. Put another way, about 1 out of every 45 whiteonblack attacks is classified as a hate crime, while the corresponding fraction for blackonwhite attacks is an astounding 1 out of 1,254.