Hate crimes rose in the U.S. by more than 17 percent in 2017, the third straight year that such prejudice-motivated attacks have risen, according to a report the FBI released Tuesday.
It is the biggest annual increase in reported hate crimes in more than a decade.
The count, which drew on data submitted by more than 3,000 law enforcement agencies, documented a total of 7,175 hate crimes in 2017.
The tally was 1,054 higher than the year before.
The report is the first federal calculation of hate crimes that largely took place since Donald Trump became president. In his nearly 22 months in office, Trump has repeatedly defended himself against accusations that he has emboldened hate groups with his rhetoric and policies concerning immigrants, Muslims and others.
In his first year, Trump faced criticism for being slow to condemn high-profile attacks against minorities, relenting only after intense public pressure. Incidents included the fatal shooting of an Indian immigrant in a Kansas bar by a man who yelled, "Get out of my country!" a rash of bomb threats against Jewish community centers, deadly stabbings of two men who defended women from racist and anti-Muslim threats on a Portland, Ore., train, and a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that the president said included "some very fine people on both sides." Assailants in each case have faced federal or state criminal charges.
Yet for those looking for evidence of a bump in hate crimes under Trump, experts said that the FBI numbers can't prove it one way or another.
"Unfortunately, the FBI data are probably the best indicators of hate crime that we have," said Jack Levin, a criminologist at the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University. "I say unfortunately because they are not very good."
"The FBI vastly undercounts hate crimes," he said. "We'd like to be able to compare the number of hate crimes year by year. We'd like to see trends over a long period of time. The problem is that every year different jurisdictions report."
In a news release, the FBI suggested the hate crime numbers shot up in 2017 because of better reporting by police departments.
"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," the FBI statement said.
There are more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies in the country and they report hate crime numbers to the FBI voluntarily. In Tuesday's count, more than 14,000 agencies did not report data or told the bureau there were no hate crimes in their jurisdictions. Others vastly underreported hate crimes.
"Each year, you'll see big cities that don't report to the FBI or report zero hate crimes," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.
In 2017, for example, the city of Miami reported zero hate crimes while the county of Miami-Dade reported one. Of the 28 law enforcement agencies the FBI requested numbers from in Mississippi, 27 reported zero hate crimes or did not respond. The one that replied said there was one hate crime during the year.
Charlottesville, Va., which was the site of one of the biggest hate group gatherings of last year, reported only one hate crime.
Dozens of other cities around the country reported zero hate crimes.
In addition, the bureau's hate crime categories have changed since the report's first release in 1992. The FBI defines a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity." But crimes against Hindus, Sikhs and Arabs have only been counted since 2015.
The FBI's data also conflict with the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey, which estimates there are 250,000 hate crimes each year in the U.S. That count doesn't include intimidation and vandalism incidents, which are included in the FBI's hate crimes report.
Another problem is that victims don't always call the police.
"We believe some individuals, such as LGBTQ people, Muslims and Latinos are not always inclined to report hate crimes because they may mistrust the police or fear being outed," said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League.
That, coupled with low FBI numbers, is why the ADL and other civil rights groups do their own bias incidents tracking. The ADL, which uses news reports and calls to its regional offices in addition to criminal reports to compile its data, has found anti-Semitic incidents on the rise since 2013. The biggest annual jump came last year, when the tally climbed 57 percent to 1,986.
The FBI's new report found there to be 938 hate crimes against Jewish people, who tend to be the most frequently targeted in crimes that are motivated against religion. That was a more than 37 percent increase over the previous year. Overall, offenses motivated by racial prejudice have routinely made up the majority of hate crimes, with blacks being the most frequently targeted race. In 2017, the FBI's report showed 2,013 hate crimes against blacks, a nearly 16 percent increase over the previous year.
Some states also release their own counts of hate crimes. A July report from the California attorney general's office said that hate crimes increased 17.4 percent last year to 1,093. It was the third year of growth of hate crimes after seven years of decline.
The report showed hate crimes in Los Angeles increased from 227 in 2016 to 263 last year.
Like the FBI report, California's was based on information provided by police departments, and it showed a majority of crimes were based on racial bias. About 27 percent of those cases targeted black people.
In a statement, acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said the report was a "call to action _ and we will heed that call."
"The Department of Justice's top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes. They are also despicable violations of our core values as Americans," Whitaker said.
"I am particularly troubled by the increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes — which were already the most common religious hate crimes in the United States — that is well documented in this report. The American people can be assured that this department has already taken significant and aggressive actions against these crimes and that we will vigorously and effectively defend their rights," he said.