What We Know — And Don’t Know — About Hate Crimes in America
July 12, 2017 4:31 PM   Subscribe

The FBI is required by law to collect data about hate crimes in the United States, but local jurisdictions aren't required to report incidents up to the federal government. As a predictable consequence, the FBI's data is incomplete. To help fill in the gaps, ProPublica's Documenting Hate is constructing a non-public-facing database to offer a broader picture of hate crimes and bias incidents in the U.S., and reporting on their preliminary findings, including recent surges in visits to white supremacist websites, an interview with a scholar of the far-right and the New York Police Department's rare diligence in tracking hate crimes.

Documenting Hate was started a week after the most recent Presidential election. It is modeled on ProPublica's 2016 Electionland project, which collected reports of voting fraud or intimidation for real-time news coverage on Election Day in the U.S.

The project is intended to function as a long-term, living database for journalists and a resource for civil rights organizations. They have partnered with several universities as well as a diverse range of national and regional media outlets.

The stories ProPublica has produced based on their initial findings are linked below. A full list, including stories from partner media outlets and organizations also working on this project can be found here.

ProPublica Coverage
* Victims in Thousands of Potential Hate Crimes Never Notify Police (June 29, 2017)
* More Than 100 Federal Agencies Fail to Report Hate Crimes to the FBI’s National Database (June 22, 2017)
* A Few Things Got Left Out of The Daily Caller’s Report on Confederate Monument Rally (May 31, 2017)
* California Hate Crime Against Sikh Man Yields Prison Terms for Assailants (May 19, 2017)
* Internet Company That Does Business With Hate Sites Alters Complaint Policies (May 10, 2017)
* How One Major Internet Company Helps Serve Up Hate on the Web(May 4, 2017)
* We’re Investigating Hate Across the U.S. There’s No Shortage of Work. (April 24, 2017)
* Hate Crime Law Results in Few Convictions and Lots of Disappointment (April 10, 2017)
* A 2-for-1 for Racists: Post Hateful Fliers, and Revel in the News Coverage (March 24, 2017)
* Across the Country, Reports of Swastika Graffiti (March 15, 2017)
* In an Angry and Fearful Nation, an Outbreak of Anti-Semitism (March 8, 2017)
* Bomb Threats to Jewish Community Centers and Organizations (March 1, 2017)
* I Cover Hate. I Didn’t Expect It at My Family’s Jewish Cemetery. (February 23, 2017)
* When the Government Really Did Fear a Bowling Green Massacre — From a White Supremacist (February 8, 2017)
* Claims of ‘Homosexual Agenda’ Help Kill Hate Crimes Laws in 5 States (February 6, 2017)

Follow Along
Documenting Hate has pages on Facebook and Twitter.

How to Help
* If you're a victim of, or a witness to a racial incident or bias crime, you can tell them your story.
* If you're a journalist and would like to get involved you can apply to be a project partner.

Why Now?
"Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the New York Police Department report a recent uptick in bias incidents and hate crimes. But with thousands of police departments failing to report alleged or even confirmed hate crimes to the FBI, we lack foundational information about how many such crimes occur in any given year, where they might occur the most and least, who the targets of such crimes tend to be, and how this has changed over time.

It is impossible to tackle a problem without good data on which to base decisions. Documenting Hate will use the techniques developed by the Electionland coalition to help arm citizens and lawmakers with the facts. Reliable data will help local policymakers and law enforcement understand the problem; reporting will make it hard for them to ignore it.
Thousands of incidents have been reported to ProPublica's database since November.
"One challenge for Documenting Hate will be verifying the reports sent to its database. Some of its five partner universities, such as the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which also participated in Electionland, conduct social media authentication on reports of cyber harassment. Ushahidi, the nonprofit software company that specializes in crowdsourcing, mapping and data visualizations, has signed on as a Documenting Hate partner; it has its own methodology for verifying stories. However, most of the real-life testimonials will be treated as tips that journalists will verify themselves.

The database is designed as a reporting tool for local journalists, [Scott] Klein [ProPublica deputy managing editor] said, and his staff will let reporters know the level of verification on specific incidents.
posted by zarq (11 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Don't read the Propublica comments. Just a heads up.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:46 PM on July 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

I personally know over a dozen victims of hate crimes (all LGBT-related) and none ever voluntarily reported it to police. A bystander called the cops in one case and the officer sexually harassed my friend. The perpetrator was let go because my friend didn't want the hassle of filing a complaint or risk further harassment/retribution. There's an entire shadow world of victims out there. It's a weird misperception that because there are rainbow flags everywhere, gay people are safe, but a few days ago the husband of a city official was assaulted and called a f*g. For trans people especially, it's a terror campaign. Most people I know don't feel safe walking alone no matter the neighborhood.
posted by AFABulous at 5:52 PM on July 12, 2017 [23 favorites]

This is a fantastic post. Thanks for the hard work, zarq.
posted by 4ster at 7:18 PM on July 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

Agreed, this is a great post. Thanks for including all that information.
posted by mordax at 7:28 PM on July 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

The FBI is required by law to collect data about hate crimes in the United States, but local jurisdictions aren't required to report incidents up to the federal government.
I don't think many realize how shoddy our reporting methods are in the U.S. We're a big, developed country, so we naturally generate a lot of statistical data. It's too easy to think we're keeping track of everything when we're not at all.

Most of the important details—the ones that would actually help us draw conclusions and combat problems—are left up to the states, counties, cities, and towns. They can volunteer to fill in the blanks, if they feel like it. Or they can completely redefine certain terms, so everything looks swell when it's not. In a lot of cases, no two areas have to do things quite the same. Trying to make sense of all the conflicting data (or all the gaps in the data) on a national level is just...impossible. In the meantime, people get hurt.

FiveThirtyEight covered this regarding police shootings in 2014:
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, which compiles the [Supplementary Homicide Report], relies on voluntary involvement of state and local police agencies — a fact that may raise some questions about the integrity of the data.
Obviously we have cultural problems that need fixing, but sometimes I can't get over how many technical problems we've got, too. It should never come down to journalists and citizens trying to track this sort of stuff, but it always seems to.
posted by iamfantastikate at 8:56 PM on July 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

Some billionaire needs to fund ProPublica. They're doing great work.
posted by LoveHam at 10:11 PM on July 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

The comment thread from the Propublica site does give a pretty accurate picture of the thoughtworld of the white-identity, men's-rights-movement, bring-on-the-genocide set, reproducing the standard moves and talking points, so while I don't recommend it for fun reading, it's useful as a place where the (pitifully few) arguments are brought together and articulated.
posted by homerica at 4:02 AM on July 13, 2017

Thank you, zarq.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:34 AM on July 13, 2017

Some billionaire needs to fund ProPublica. They're doing great work.

They get funding from several billionaires.
posted by jpe at 7:55 AM on July 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone.

ProPublica began in '07 thanks to funding from Herbert and Marion Sandler. George Soros has also donated. Their site lists some of their supporters .
posted by zarq at 8:40 AM on July 13, 2017

Yeah, the Open Society Foundation (George Soros' org) has actually been doing some interesting work, with Communities Against Hate, in addition to handing out grants.

Their thinking is that if various communities can share data, we might get a more holistic picture. And that if victims of hate need an organization that feels culturally sensitive & relevant to them, they're more likely to report. So they've created a big partnership with many other organizations that cater to specific groups. (Like, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Transgender Law, NCLR, and more.)

Additionally, the FBI apparently only releases data every three years or so. So by the time anyone can mobilize, the problem "hot spots" may have shifted/gotten worse/surprisingly better—and (other than speculation and anecdotally) no one knows why. I believe Communities Against Hate aims to be the go-to reporting system, by partnering with other orgs that have their own reporting systems, in a wildly imperfect system.

(Full disclosure, I worked with them for a bit.)
posted by functionequalsform at 11:35 AM on July 13, 2017

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