FBI: hate crimes in 2019 rose to highest levels in more than a decade

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Hate crimes in the United States last year rose to the highest levels in more than a decade, according to a new FBI report.

The report, released Monday, showed that there were 51 hate crime murders in 2019, which includes 22 people who were killed in a shooting that targeted Mexicans at a Walmart in the border city of El Paso, Texas. The suspect in that August 2019 shooting was charged with both state and federal crimes in what authorities said was an attempt to scare Hispanics into leaving the United States.

FILE: El Paso Walmart shooting suspect Patrick Crusius pleads not guilty during his arraignment in El Paso, Texas.  
(El Paso Times via AP)

There were 7,314 hate crimes last year, up from 7,120 the year before – and approaching the 7,783 of 2008. The FBI's annual report defines hate crimes as those motivated by bias based on a person's race, religion or sexual orientation, among other categories.

Some of the 2019 increases may be the result of better reporting by police departments, but law enforcement officials and advocacy groups don't doubt that hate crimes are on the rise. The Justice Department has for years been specifically prioritizing hate crime prosecutions.

The data also shows there was a nearly 7% increase in religion-based hate crimes, with 953 reports of crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions last year, up from 835 the year before. The number of hate crimes against African Americans dropped slightly to 1,930, from 1,943.

Anti-Hispanic hate crimes, however, rose to 527 in 2019, from 485 in 2018, while the total number of hate crimes based on a person's sexual orientation stayed relatively stable.

As the data was made public on Monday, advocacy groups called on Congress and law enforcement agencies across the U.S. to improve data collection and reporting of hate crimes.

Despite more thorough statistics, critics still say the data may be incomplete because it is based on voluntary reporting by police agencies across the country.

Last year, only 2,172 law enforcement agencies out of about 15,000 participating agencies across the country reported hate crime data to the FBI. And while the number of agencies reporting hate crimes increased, the number of agencies participating in the program actually dropped from the year before. A large number of police agencies appeared not to submit any hate crime data, which has been a consistent struggle for Justice Department officials.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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