How Much of a Problem Is Hate Crime?
Hate crime has become a major talking point in the United States over the past few years, particularly with the election of Donald Trump. Between 2014 and 2017, the FBI has reported a 31% increase in hate crime incidents in the United States per the UCR. Based on this information, one would believe that hate crime is becoming an increasing threat to the United States. After all, the data doesn’t lie.
Defining Hate Crime
However, one major problem with this is how hate crime is defined. According to the FBI, “A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” The underlying problem with this definition is it elevates non-criminal activity to the level of a crime. Spray painting a phallus on the side of a building is vandalism. Spray painting a swastika on the side of a building is a hate crime. To get a true understanding of hate crime, the underlying action must be fully understood. When we eliminate motivation from the equation and separate events into the categories of violent crime, non-violent crime and misdemeanor, we find the percentage mix looks like this:
Criminal - Non-Violent
The first major problem we run into, then, is that the vast majority of recorded hate crimes fall into a number of activities that normally fall under misdemeanor or even civil categories. These actions include vandalism, simple assault and a vague category the FBI uses called “Crimes Against Society.” Vandalism alone makes up a third of all events. It is troubling that the State elevates non-criminal matters into a criminal one based nothing on perpetrator motivation. The aforementioned swastika spray paint is no more difficult to clean off than a person scrawling their name.
Digging further, the increase in reported hate crimes is driven primarily by these non-criminal acts.
The disparity between real crime where people are harmed or property is irreparably lost and simple misdemeanor activity is staggering. The reason for this is that the State has incentives to elevate these normally trivial events into the realm of high crime as doing so creates the impression the State is protecting the public from dangerous elements. Saying the State found 7,000 incidents of hate crime sounds much more impressive than saying they found 78. Prosecutors, particularly those who are elected to their positions, are able to wear a badge of honor on the campaign trail if they put a hate criminal behind bars, even though it’s normally drumming up someone who exchanged a few mean words with a passer-by.
The Change Metric is Inappropriate
When dealing with changes between periods, the two methods are numeric change and percentage change. Frequently, percentage change is used as it does a better job explaining amplitude. However, percentage changes are not appropriate when talking about small numbers. With a small number base, what would normally be statistical noise is amplified as a large percentage change. The context is extremely important — with 7,000 events, it only takes a change of 70 to register a 1% change. So, when it’s reported that hate crime increased by 31%, this means the number of events increased by 1,770. Is this a large or small number? To get an understanding, if we were to stack the hate crime data against general violent crime over the same period, the chart looks like this:
The total, let alone the change, isn’t even worth noting. There are approximately 168 incidents of real violent crime for every non-violent and misdemeanor hate crime. If we look at real threats, like murder, the 12 are attributed to hate crime in 2017 — as a reminder, the humble bee is responsible for three times as many deaths each year — is dwarfed by the total 17,284 murders in the same year. Same can be said of rape (24), arson (42), and human trafficking (1).
When placed in a more appropriate metric, such as events per 100,000, the US has a hate crime rate of 2.3 per 100,000. The rate is 0.47 per 100,000 when only true crimes are counted. This is considered an excellent homicide rate by groups agitating for gun control, so based on this metric, the US has fully solved the hate crime problem.
Another issue is the selection of the start point. The rise can either be 31% or 17% depending on if we pick 2014 or 2011. Because the FBI didn’t keep detailed information prior to 2011, I didn’t go back for the above analysis, but this photo provides some more historical context back to 1997:
The 7,443 total incidents are considered low by standards of that entire window with only 2005 coming in lower. Further, the period shows that there have been ebbs and flows but, at least since 1997, the long trend is down, so there is likely nothing to worry about today even if you do consider the number to be large.
It is also difficult to pin this to a specific politician since the latest upward wave started three years prior to that politician’s inauguration.
Eradicating an issue is not so much as reducing the cases to zero but mitigating the cases down to a small enough number that it no longer is a problem. We can’t fully eradicate the cockroach but will be considered pest free if you only see one every month or so. Being a victim is terrible, but it is impossible to completely shield people from the less savory parts of life. Social ostracizing is more than sufficient to deal with the misdemeanor events and existing institutions already handle the real crime, so they don’t need to be classified as anything special.
The Economics of Hate Crime
An indicator hate crime isn’t a problem is the rise of the hate crime hoax. According to researcher Wilfred Reilly, a Kentucky State professor of political science, there has been a notable rise in hate crime hoaxes. For anyone who thinks he’s just another racist, here he is taking the alt-right to task on diversity and has and has earned himself a slot on a few enemy lists of white supremacists, though I’m not willing to link to those sources I’d rather not promote their existence.
What is driving this is the economics behind the hate crime. The economics of supply and demand extend beyond simple monetary transaction. Human relationships are built on this. For example, we demand companionship and seek someone to supply it in the form of, say, a marriage and we have to provide a supply of some quality the partner demands themselves to maintain the relationship. It’s a classic transaction, except money isn’t (usually) involved.
In today’s United States, there is immense value in becoming a victim of a hate crime. There is an outpouring of social support, TV circuit interviews and other social benefits. Being seen as authentic is so strong that people become distraught when they find out they’re not the ethnicity they think they are; these individuals are motivated to become a victim of such an event to solidify their social standing. This explains why hoaxes are concentrated on college campuses as younger individuals place tremendous emphasis on social standing.
When there’s a strong demand, a supply will follow in the form of self-manufactured events since it takes too long to organically become a victim, if ever. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that it is quite possible that this demand to be a victim may be convincing people to engage in real hate crime activity. If there’s a perception that people want to be victimized, you’ll find a few people happy to oblige.
Through the fact that there are any hoax events indicates that the problem of hate is, by and large, solved. Imagine for a moment if a black family in 1920 burned a cross on their own lawn and went around seeking sympathy. This would be an absurd tactic since, back then, the majority didn’t care that black families were targeted for hate crime. The overwhelming support such people obtain as the immediate snap decision has indicated that our society doesn’t tolerate such behavior and, since society doesn’t tolerate the behavior, finding individuals is equally rare. One doesn’t need to raise awareness when the events are so few that cable news outlets can justify days of debate over each event; we’re already pretty much aware the moment they happen. But one does need to raise awareness if they wish to have their 15 minutes of fame.
As I previously noted, the number of people who buy into hate ideology, regardless of motivation, is so trivial that they couldn’t even fill a minor league baseball stadium. There are more people than this who think the Earth is flat, yet no one considers that a growing trend. It would be impossible to casually talk about Nazis being evil if they had any semblance of power or authority as people would tread more carefully. Being anti-Nazi is a safe and easy way to win social points since there is almost zero risk of reprisal. Just ask Wilfred Reilly, who is on actual enemies lists, just how dangerous they are (they aren’t). However, politicians, certain groups and many individuals have strong incentives to manufacture hate crimes where none exist as such events generate votes, revenue and social attention.