Is America really full of hate? Are we truly a nation teeming with victims? Outsiders could certainly come to that conclusion after digesting the steady stream of agitated comments from activists, politicians and media reports about the divisive state of our interpersonal relationships.
Hate speech, hate crimes, violence perpetrated by hate groups – all topics the media has made a near-daily staple of its coverage. Headlines scream that hate is on the rise!
Facts reveal a very different picture. We are a nation of more than 327 million people. According to the latest FBI statistics (from 2017), there were 7,175 hate crimes reported. That was a bit higher than the year before, but there were also more law enforcement agencies reporting. Not all hate crime complaints were found to be legitimate, but even if they were, 7,175 reports in a nation with a population of more than 327 million? Using these statistics, the only conclusion to be reached is that hate crimes are rare.
To be fair, there are those who maintain there has been a “massive underreporting” in the FBI’s voluntary database because local police agencies fail to train officers in hate crime detection. They point to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that estimates Americans don’t report more than 50 percent of hate crime but still “experience an average of 250,000 hate crime victimizations each year” (from 2004 through 2015). Again, not all substantiated, but 250,000 reports from a population as large as the United States is hardly an epidemic.
Many media reports point to an analysis of 2017 data collected by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. The report declares that hate crimes in 10 major U.S. cities have risen “to the highest level in over a decade.” Sounds scary, but adding up all the reported hate crimes from those 10 cities equaled only 1,038. Again, that’s a teensy fraction of the American population.
None of this is to downplay hate. It is only to put all the statistics floating around in perspective.
Admittedly, there are both far-right and far-left extremist groups in America that make it their mission to target specific racial, religious or sexual orientation groups. And there are seething individuals fueled by anger, hate and perhaps mental illness who want to harm those who don’t look like, act like or believe in the same ideology as they do. None of this should be tolerated. And it is not.
White nationalist Christopher Paul Hasson, a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant, was recently arrested on drug and gun charges, and prosecutors say he was planning the mass murder of Democratic politicians and journalists. He wrote that he started his career of hate as “a skinhead 30 plus years ago” before he joined the military. Hasson was caught after making too many extensive searches for extremist websites while at work.
James Hodgkinson, a man reported to be “strongly anti-Trump,” cased a Virginia ballfield for weeks in his hunt for Republican lawmakers. Then, in June 2017, he opened fire and nearly killed Rep. Steve Scalise. After an intense shootout, four others were injured and Hodgkinson was killed.
And we should never forget last October’s attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 parishioners were murdered and another six injured by Robert Bowers, a man who proclaimed Jews are “the enemy of white people.” Hate certainly poured forth from Bowers, but labeling his action as “hate murder” achieves what exactly? Murder is already the most heinous of crimes punishable by life in prison or even death.
And for the sake of LGBT Americans, it is beyond a shame that actor Jussie Smollett made false claims of a racist, homophobic attack, because countless members of the LGBT community live with the very real fear of such an assault.
Unfortunately, being suspicious of and attacking strangers is as old as the Bible, folks. There is no way to stamp out hate in every soul.
But there is more societal acceptance about our differences now. Our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces are more diverse than ever. Interfaith marriage has been steadily increasing, proving love can beat out tribal loyalty. Gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states. Voter turnout reached record levels in 2018, indicating more Americans are coming together to involve themselves in the political process. The economy is stronger; employment is at an all-time high. I see so much more tolerance and acceptance of those who look different, love differently, worship in an unfamiliar way. This should be our takeaway these days, not the continuous outcry about how hate-filled things are.
Are there still pockets of hatred in America? Yes, and, sadly, there always will be. Hate is as old as time itself. Get used to the idea that life will never be perfect, or as President Jimmy Carter once famously said, “Life isn’t fair.”
The outlier to all this improvement in relations, of course, is the confirmation bias. So many of us practice shutting out others’ political views when they don’t match ours. We really need to work on that.