The FBI just released the bureau’s latest statistics on hate crimes in America, and the top line numbers increased dramatically in 2017:
The number of hate crime incidents reported to the FBI increased about 17 percent in 2017 compared with the previous year, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s annual Hate Crime Statistics report, released today. Law enforcement reported 7,175 hate crimes to UCR in 2017, up from 6,121 in 2016. Although the numbers increased last year, so did the number of law enforcement agencies reporting hate crime data—with approximately 1,000 additional agencies contributing information.
While it’s hard to draw concrete conclusions about what caused this uptick, you’d have to be living under a rock since 2016 to miss the striking surge of overt white supremacy and violence across the country. More than 80% of hate crimes are perpetrated on the basis on race, ethnicity, ancestry, or religion, and as such, it’s not surprising that most of these crimes are perpetrated by white Americans.
We should have seen this coming.
In last week’s New York Times Magazine, Janet Reitman delivered a comprehensive examination of the failure of domestic law enforcement to identify and manage the threat posed by white supremacist terror in America, even as evidence mounted that the threat of right-wing extremism was growing. The reasons for the failure are myriad: an overemphasis on international threats from predominantly Muslim countries after 9/11; the lack of communication infrastructure among federal, state, and local governments; and unclear definitions of what constitutes terror, to name a few.
But perhaps the most disturbing reason for the failure it that, while experts in the federal government have been waving the red flag on this issue for years, conservatives in Congress have tried to bury the problem, over concerns that identifying actual right-wing terror is tantamount to political game-playing. When a group of analysts at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security produced a report in 2009, documenting the uptick in right-wing, white supremacist violence, Republicans in congress immediately politicized the report and dismissed the findings. Then Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, ensured that the report’s findings would be buried when he suggested that the report equated conservatism with terrorism.
While the entire law enforcement establishment, and their Republican allies, were at least passively complicit in minimizing the threat of white supremacist terror, some corners of the police and military seemed to be actively helping to cultivate the violence. According to Reitman:
A link to the [report] was also posted on a blog maintained by the Oath Keepers, the antigovernment group composed of numerous law-enforcement officials. “FORWARD THIS TO EVERY AMERICAN!” read the post, which [report author Daryl] Johnson suspected had been written by a member of the law-enforcement community. “YOU are now a dangerous terrorist according to the Obama administration.”
While most of America’s law enforcement officials are not active participants in white supremacist gangs, there is an unfortunate preponderance of incidences wherein police, sheriffs, and other members of the law enforcement community engage in overt racism. Natasha Lennard of The Intercept examined some of these linkages, including:
… the case of a local sheriff’s department in Los Angeles that was found to have formed a neo-Nazi gang in 1991; a Chicago detective and rumored Ku Klux Klan member who was found to have tortured 120 black men while on duty (before eventually being fired and prosecuted); and cops in Cleveland who scrawled neo-Nazi graffiti in their locker rooms … A true reckoning with law enforcement’s role in American white supremacy would address the dark and unfinished history of policing as a racist institution, from its birth in the slave patrols of the 18th century, to its historic presence in the KKK, to the innumerable instances of racism by the police and the continued threat policing poses to black life.
At the very least, American law enforcement seems insufficiently concerned with the propagation of white supremacist extremism on our soil. As new hate crimes data suggest, this threat is far from abating, and a blasé attitude towards this most prevalent form of domestic terrorism is shamefully negligent. At worst, too many corners of American law enforcement are not ignorant of this threat, but rather sympathetic to its racist aims.