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Millions are victims of hate crimes, though many never report them

Many victims of hate crimes are reluctant to report them to the police. And reported crimes do not always lead to arrests, prosecutions, or even a record of hate crimes.

Sonya King was delivering food in Atlanta when a customer grabbed her head covering and began to choke her with it.
Sonya King was delivering food in Atlanta when a customer grabbed her head covering and began to choke her with it.Read moreMegan Ross / News21

PHOENIX — More than 2.4 million crimes in which the victims say the perpetrators were motivated by hate occurred across the United States in the five years between 2012 and 2016, according to a News21 analysis of the federal National Crime Victimization Survey, for which tens of thousands of Americans are interviewed annually.

Jack McDevitt, director of Northeastern University's Institute on Race and Justice, said the victimization survey data are important in determining victims' perceptions of hate crimes at a time of cultural and political upheaval in the United States.

"Groups such as black Americans and the LGBTQ community have historically and consistently been targeted by hate crimes," McDevitt said. "However, external events and politics can change attitudes toward certain groups. Whenever controversial things happen, it empowers the haters to go ahead and act out because they believe that people share their bias."

Over the last eight months, News21 journalists reported from 36 states, which included a 7,000-mile road trip around the country to assess the state of hate in America.

Many victims of hate crimes are reluctant to report them to the police. And reported crimes do not always lead to arrests, prosecutions, or even a record of hate crimes. Two-thirds of the victimization survey respondents who suspected they were targeted because of hate were unable to cite tangible evidence, such as hate speech, that could be used by law enforcement. Authorities could confirm only 2.5 percent of the reported crimes were motivated by hate.

What the victimization survey found has not been reflected in the FBI's national hate crime data. In the same five-year period ending in 2016, the FBI counted only 30,000 hate crimes reported to them by local police. Only 12 percent of the nation's police departments reported any hate crimes at all to the FBI.

"It's important to look at the number of people who suspect they were a victim of a hate crime and not just the FBI data. People's perception is their reality," said attorney Roy Austin, a former deputy assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. "A lot of these law enforcement agencies don't believe that they have a problem with hate crimes. If they don't think they have a problem, they won't deal with it well."

Among other reasons, News21 found that Latinos don't report hate crimes because of the threat of deportation. As targeting of their communities appears to be on the rise, Latinos and immigrants are increasingly fearful of reporting racially biased crimes and incidents to law enforcement.

"We're told not to draw any unnecessary attention to ourselves. Even if you get robbed or exploited or you're in danger, you just don't want that unnecessary attention," said Pricila Garcia, 20, of Cleburne, Texas, the daughter of Mexican immigrants.

LGBTQ people also are hesitant to report hate crimes because of a chronic distrust between the community and the police. Their cases usually aren't prosecuted as hate crimes when they are reported, victims said.

Brandon Ballone, a drag performer, was a victim of a violent crime during a night out in New York in 2016. The 27-year-old was wearing a T-shirt advertising his drag-queen personality when a group of teenagers beat him with a glass bottle, leaving him with a severed tendon in his hand, a torn ear, and damaged jaw.

Ballone said shock and his impulse to get to safety meant he couldn't recall whether his attackers used homophobic slurs or called him names. As a result, police didn't investigate his case as a hate crime.

"Anybody who attacks someone in that kind of way, it seems to me that there is a lot of hate there," Ballone said. "But apparently, a hate crime, to [the police], means I would have had to hear them say the word 'faggot.' "

Hate crime laws are not consistent across the U.S. Forty-five states have statutes criminalizing various types of bias-motivated violence or intimidation. Hate crime laws in 14 of those states do not include either sexual orientation or gender identity.  Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana, and Wyoming have no hate crime laws at all.

In May, Sonya King, a black Muslim woman, was delivering food for DoorDash in Atlanta when her first customer of the day, Rick Painter, 54, grabbed her head covering, pulled her inside his home, and began to choke her with it.

"That was some real hateful stuff," King said. "Every time when I told that man, 'I got children,' he pulled harder."

Advocacy groups called the attack a hate crime, claiming King was targeted for her race and religion. The case is ongoing; Painter is charged with felony false imprisonment and aggravated assault.

Just 100 hate crimes have been prosecuted as federal crimes from January 2010 to July 2018, according to a News21 analysis of the cases. Half involved racially motivated violence against black Americans.

In one of the best-known cases, during a Bible-study meeting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., in July 2015, a young white supremacist shot and killed nine black parishioners. Dylann Roof was convicted of 33 federal hate crimes and sentenced to death.

Victims, hate groups, advocates, and officials across the country also told News21 that the cultural and political divisiveness in America today has emboldened more people to express intolerance toward minorities and that the targets often keep silent.

"Some members of minority groups feel vulnerable and unwelcome in America," said Northeastern's McDevitt, Between the hateful rhetoric and law enforcement reaction and some police-induced violence, they are feeling under siege in ways they haven't before."

Michael Lieberman, director of the Civil Rights Policy Planning Center at the Anti-Defamation League, said hate often increases during elections, and this last presidential election cycle pushed more people to reveal their intolerance.

"Hate crimes have been pretty consistent for the past 10 years, but during times of elections or political events, things can be very polarizing," Lieberman said. "There is no doubt that the 2016 election was not a good example of comity and civility and promoting diversity and respect for others."

Simran Jeet Singh, a senior religion fellow at the Sikh Coalition, said hate speech has changed over time depending on events in the world. Around the time of the Iraq War, he was called "Saddam," Singh said, but today it's "ISIS" and "terrorist."

"Muslim in this country has become a bad word," he said. "It has become wrong to associate with a particular religious tradition. It highlights the fact that a lot of this hate is rooted in ignorance because people are assuming that I'm Muslim when I'm not, just because of their sort of racial understanding of who I am based on my appearance."

As faith-based hate increases, religious communities are banding together to rally against the burning of mosques, bomb threats at Jewish community centers, and the vandalization of Jewish cemeteries. They are amping up security, hosting self-defense classes, and educating neighborhoods about religion to combat hatred.

There also has been an increase in hate crimes and recruitment by white supremacist groups on college campuses. According to data collected from 6,506 higher-education institutions by the U.S. Department of Education, the number of reported campus hate incidents, including harassment and vandalism, increased from 74 in 2006 to 1,300 in 2016.

Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, said the youthful new right is a "millennial-male phenomenon" that is changing the climate of hate in the U.S. The violent misogyny at the core of the alt-right's foundations distinguishes it from hate groups of the past, she said, noting the "female-bashing that is at the core of the internet," where young males are becoming radicalized.

Hate groups have increasingly used social media to recruit members and target victims, giving rise to a new phenomenon of internet hate. "What social media does is it allows people to find each other and establish digital communities and relationships," said Benjamin Lee, senior research associate for the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats. "Not to say that extreme sentiment is growing or not, but it is a lot more visible."

News21 reporters Allie Bice and Lenny Martinez Dominguez contributed to this report.

This report is part of the "Hate in America" project produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, a national investigative reporting project by top college journalism students and recent graduates from across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. For the complete project, visit