As it begins a new reporting effort to document hate crimes, ProPublica notes “one irrefutable truth”: the data is deeply flawed. The state of California, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the FBI have recently reported increases in crimes motivated by racial, religious, sexual or gender intolerance. The mix of information – state level, anecdotal, federally collected, dating from two years ago to last week – is sure to fuel the country’s evolving conversation and concern about the potential for violence in a divided America. Already, those worried about the consequences of Donald Trump’s election have seized on some of the reports to stoke worry about emboldened white nationalists. And Trump’s supporters have moved quickly to try to debunk the swirl of alleged incidents of intimidation and violence that have surfaced in social media.
FBI Director James Comey said as much as he announced the bureau’s latest batch of numbers on Monday, saying, “We need to do a better job of tracking and reporting hate crimes to fully understand what is happening in our communities and how to stop it.” More than 3,000 state and local law enforcement agencies don’t report hate crimes to the FBI as part of its annual national survey of crime in America. And many of the law enforcement agencies that do choose to participate are not rigorous about documenting hate crimes. The data appears particularly spotty in much of the South, where there is a long history of racial strife. Police in Mississippi reported zero hate crimes in 2015. In Arkansas, the number was eight. In Alabama, it was 12.