Have “Hate Crimes” Really Plummeted?

Murky Data

Murky Data

I sure hope that “hate crimes”  have actually plummeted in Los Angeles, to a 24 year low, as reported recently by the L.A. County Commission on Human Rights (LACCHR).  The data released by LACCHR was covered in a story buried in the L.A. Times, and hardly mentioned elsewhere.  I’m skeptical about the data, but wish they are true.

The California Office of the Attorney General (OAG) also reports a substantial decrease in hate crimes across the State.   Same goes for an FBI document,  which last year reported “a slight decrease” in those crimes nationally.    These reports from different governments and agencies, appear to rely on some common data sources, so they are not entirely corroborating one another.

Can the LA data really be true? I don’t have hard evidence to the contrary.  I am surely not a knee-jerk denier of government agency data.  I really want it to be true, that hate crimes are in free fall.  But you can’t blame one for being skeptical.

The Zimmerman, Sterling, Ferguson/Brown, Matthew Shepherd affairs, are still fresh in our minds.  So is the shocking video of the NFL football player knocking out his paramour in an elevator.  As is the deplorable banishment of Jewish scholars by some top American and British academic associations, because of differences over Israeli treatment of Palestinians.  And then there were the deeply unsettling images of enraged crowds, brandishing hateful signs in Murrieta and Escondido California, opposing measures and blocking buses trying to find temporary shelter for endangered Latino kids who crossed the U.S. border?

With all of this as background and context, the LA County report says anti-Jewish crimes fell 48%.  And that anti Hispanic crimes also plunged.  Could that be true?

Perhaps skepticism about the numbers is what kept the LA report from receiving more attention   Conservatives might say that “suppression of ‘good news’ by the mainstream media supports the liberals’ “perpetual victim hood agenda.”   But even conservative media, which has an interest in “proving” that vulnerable groups are being treated better and better every day in America, ignored the report,

If the LA County data actually reflect a diminution of hate,  or hate crimes, what would be the explanation?   Effective education?   Effective deterrence?  The haters have left LA for Murrieta?   More likely, it’s  a systematic change in the way hate crimes are defined and reported.  Or, simply yet another disconnect between what’s covered in the news — Zimmerman, Ferguson, Murrieta, and the like —  and what’s really happening to minorities, women, gays, and Jews.   The message: Cable news stories notwithstanding,  love and tolerance are actually breaking out all over.    (I don’t really believe that, but it is possible),

The LA Report itself begins with a thoughtful and candid discussion of the (generally) low quality of hate crime data, the problem of “under-reporting,” and the evolving (shifting?) definition of “hate crimes.”   So, why publish it at all when you think the data are unreliable?

Speaking of “hate,” I hate studies that lead with flashing red lights about the poor quality of the data; and then merrily go on to report them anyway, along with fancy, labor intensive graphics,  and elaborate explanations of what they mean.

I suppose LACCHR is legally required to collect and publish the data. Even if the numbers are in doubt or hard to explain, one of LACCHR’s missions is to keep issues of bigotry and hate crimes on the table,  and in the foreground.   That argument has some merit.   But LACCHR and agencies like them, must take to heart doubts such as those expressed here, work with legislatures and law enforcement officials to strengthen the collection protocols, and provide a solid response to the understandable questions in the minds of skeptics.

It would be really nice if the society was healing,  but we don’t want bad data to make us think the problems have gone away.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Have “Hate Crimes” Really Plummeted?

  1. Harold Nelson

    I wouldn’t consider published hate-crime data even worth thinking about. At least that’s what I concluded some years back when I was involved with criminal justice data. The problem is that reporting something as a hate crime requires an extra effort on the part of the responsible agency. I wonder how many hate crimes Joe Arpaio’s goons have reported. This is much worse than the situation with crimes like rape or domestic abuse, where factual reporting depends on the willingness of the victim to speak up.

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  2. Irv Lefberg Post author

    Thanks Harold. You reenforce my instincts about this voo doo and doo doo data. As much as I understand the reasons for pushing the hate crime concept, it is very slippery and creates a slippery slope in terms of criminalizing thought .

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