WASHINGTON - Preliminary data from more than three dozen U.S. police departments indicate a double-digit spike in hate crimes last year and a continued rise into 2022, with incidents targeting Asian and Jewish Americans accounting for the bulk of the increase.
On average, bias-motivated incidents in 37 major U.S. cities increased by nearly 39%, with the 10 largest metropolitan areas reporting a record increase of 54.5%, according to an analysis of national police data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
Brian Levin, executive director of the center, said the uptrend in hate crime extended into the first quarter of 2022 with bias incidents rising by an average of 30% in 15 large cities and is likely to continue.
"Historically, in midterm election years, hate crimes almost always peak, or come close to peaking much later in the year - often in September and October, with the first quarter usually significantly lower than the rest of the year," Levin said. "This suggests a turbulent year-end 2022 may be ahead."
Increase in Hate Crimes in the US from 2020-21
The university's data, shared with VOA, offer an early peek into hate incidents in 2021 and come months before the FBI releases its annual hate crime report.
While large cities account for a disproportionate number of hate crime incidents in the United States, they can be a prognosticator of the overall national trend, Levin said.
The yearly FBI tally is based on voluntary data submissions by more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies. The bureau said the 2021 data are slated for release in the fall, a typical lag of several months.
Last October, the FBI reported that hate crime jumped to 8,263 incidents in 2020, the highest level in more than two decades.
The overall increase in hate crimes in 2021 came as anti-Asian incidents jumped 224% to a record 369 incidents in 20 of the largest U.S. cities, while anti-Jewish and anti-gay incidents posted increases of more than 50% to 373 incidents, according to the data.
Anti-Asian assaults and other types of incidents have been on an upswing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, fueled in part, community activists and experts say, by rhetoric blaming China for the deadly virus.
The Stop AAPI Hate coalition, created during the pandemic to track bias incidents, received nearly 11,000 anti-Asian hate reports from March 2020 to December 2021.
People hold signs in support of Asian American Pacific Islander communities while attending a candlelight vigil in honor of Michelle Alyssa Go, a victim of a recent subway attack, at Times Square on Jan. 18, 2022, in New York.
More than 60% of the incidents were reported by women, including women using public transit, according to Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, one of the founding partners of the anti-hate coalition.
Asian women reported being verbally harassed, coughed and spat on, physically assaulted and refused entry onto urban transit trains.
"What I see through the report is that horrible things are being said that are racist and sexist that I can't even repeat to you now," Choi said in an interview. "And of course, there's always a fear that that type of verbal harassment, that type of racial profiling and targeting will escalate to violence."
The FBI defines hate crimes as criminal offenses motivated by the perpetrator's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.
While the majority of the incidents tracked by Stop AAPI Hate did not rise to the level of hate crimes, violence targeting Asian Americans continued to rise.
Change in Hate Crimes in the 10 Largest US Cities from 2020-21
In Atlanta, a 21-year-old man shot and killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at massage parlors in March 2021. Although the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, said he was motivated by sex addiction, not racism, prosecutors alleged anti-Asian animus.
In San Francisco, home to one of the largest Asian communities in the United States, several Asian Americans were violently attacked last year, including an 84-year-old man who died in January after being shoved to the ground.
The violence has rattled the Asian American community. A Pew survey released this week found that more than one-third of Asian Americans worry they might be threatened or attacked and have made changes in their daily routine because of that concern.
Anti-Jewish hate crimes
The rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes came as fresh violence between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 spurred a wave of antisemitic incidents in the United States.
Last month, the Anti-Defamation League reported that it had tallied 2,717 antisemitic incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism in 2021, the highest number since it started tracking such cases in 1979.
New York City, the city with the largest Jewish American population in the U.S., was particularly hard hit. Police data show that anti-Jewish hate crimes increased by 71% to 207 incidents in 2021.
Of the 88 assaults on Jewish victims reported to the ADL last year, more than half took place in New York, noted Scott Richman, ADL regional director for New York and New Jersey.
Visibly identifiable Jews such as members of New York's Hassidic community were frequent targets.
In November, three teenage girls were accused of attacking a 12-year-old Orthodox Jewish boy walking home with his 3-year-old brother. The New York Post, citing authorities, reported that one of the girls slapped the toddler in the face before fleeing the scene.
"That was very disturbing," Richman said.
Similar attacks on New York's Orthodox Jews have continued in recent weeks. Last week, a 32-year-old Hassidic man was punched in the face and the head by a stranger as he walked down a street in the city's Crown Heights section.
"The Nazis should have killed you Jews," the attacker allegedly said before taking off.
Richman said the incidents have terrorized the Hassidic community.
"People don't know if they can walk in the streets, what's going to happen," Richman said.