Reading and Understanding Data on Anti-Semitic Incidents

Written by Malka Goldberg on . Posted in Features

What is a Hate Crime?

The Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) of 1990 defines hate crimes as “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, gender or gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” The HCSA also required the Attorney General to collect data on these crimes, and this responsibility was delegated to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

“It is important for the community to understand what is — and is not – a hate crime,” a DC Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson said. “First and foremost, the incident must be a crime. Although that may seem obvious, most speech is not a hate crime, regardless of how offensive it may be. Therefore, speech demonstrating bias could be classified as an incident.”

How to Read the Data

Many organizations — including state and local police, the FBI, the ADL, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) — track hate crimes on some level. However, each institution uses different time frames, definitions, criteria, and data sources, so the numbers cannot be compared on a one-to-one basis.

To gain a comprehensive, nuanced understanding of what the numbers really show, start by identifying the following data points:

Type of incident: Some reports, like the FBI’s Hate Crimes Statistics report, only include hate crimes, while others, like the ADL’s Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, also include non-criminal bias incidents.

Data sources: ADL compiles data from press reports and its 26 regional offices. BJS data come from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which is self-reported. State police departments track crimes reported from local precincts, and these data are reported to the FBI for use in the HCSA report.

Time frame: ADL’s recent report looked at the first nine months of 2017, while the FBI just released the HCSA data for 2016, and the latest BJS data available are from 2015.

Raw numbers: ADL reported a 67 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same time period last year, which amounted to 520 more incidents in the entire country. The smaller the scale, the more important it is to look at the raw numbers behind the statistics.

Comprehensiveness: More than 90 cities with populations above 100,000 reported no hate crimes or did not submit data to the FBI HCSA in 2016.

Accuracy: Although the HCSA requires all states to report hate crime data, ProPublica found that 38 states do not require police academies to teach officers how to identify and investigate hate crimes.

Data from the organizations mentioned in this article show that anti-Semitic incidents are increasing. While this trend should absolutely concern the local Jewish community, it is important to keep these numbers in perspective. “The number of anti-Semitic incidents is going up, but the number of reported incidents are low relative to the total population,” Ezickson said. “However, these numbers do not reflect the disturbing and growing trend of online anti-Semitism expressed every day across social media platforms.”

New Tracking and Reporting Resources

ADL Hate Crime Map: This interactive tool allows users to view hate crime laws and FBI HCSA data from 2004 – 2016 by state. Visit adl.org/adl-hate-crime-map.

Documenting Hate: ProPublica created this database with a broad coalition of media organizations and civil rights groups — including ADL — to improve hate crime tracking by crowd-sourcing hate crime data from victims, journalists, and advocacy groups. Visit documentinghate.com to learn more or report an incident.

Hate Crime Help: This platform — created by CuroLegal in partnership with Cisco Systems and the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation —  combines a crowd-sourced incident reporting tool with clear explanations of relevant laws and resources for further assistance. Visit hatecrimehelp.com to report an incident, compare state and federal hate crime laws, learn about the difference between hate crime and bias incidents, or find assistance.

Malka Goldberg is the Community News editor for Kol HaBirah.