On the Underreporting of Hate Crimes

One common saying in the policy world—a saying I know as someone who can be a policy wonk, himself—is that “bad data leads to bad policies.”

Unfortunately, one area where we have bad data is with one of the major issues of our day: hate crimes.

In my blog post last Monday, where I talked about the recent shootings at three Atlanta-area spas, I made reference to the fact that hate crimes in general are underreported. While we have some data (some of which I cited in last week’s post), the data is not where it needs to be. This is the case because data on these crimes depends on the voluntary reporting of local police departments—something that can result in the severe undercounting of hate crimes. As a result, not all police agencies even report hate this data, and even among those departments who report such data, few departments report there being any hate crimes in 2018.[1]

Because of such incomplete data with regards to hate crimes in general, we’re left with a lot of unanswered questions about hate crimes in America. Here are some of the questions I, for one, have (and in bold, I explain how the answer to a question I raise could inform policy):

  • Are there any cities, regions, or states where the levels of hate crime overall are particularly high? Learning about the communities that struggle the most with these crimes may result in considerations of how to devote additional resources, or a different set of resources, to addressing the issues they experience with hate crimes.
  • Which ethnicities, religions, or other classifications are being targeted the most and/or are experiencing a rise in being victims of hate crimes, either in certain areas or nationally? Based on limited data from some major cities,[2] it appears anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise, but it would be nice to have more knowledge of whether this is an issue nationwide or whether it’s a problem concentrated in certain areas. Such data could potentially also help inform strategies on how to deal with the types of hate crimes that a specific area experiences the most.
  • Are there any cities, regions, or states where hate crime statistics seem to be defying certain trends nationally and/or in their own state? If there are any police departments where such crimes are bucking certain trends in their state or nationally for the better, then it would be worth seeing what those police departments are doing well in preventing and/or addressing hate crimes; this could then inform how other police departments address hate crimes. If any police departments are bucking certain trends in their state or nationally for the worse, then there needs to be an examination of what’s going wrong and how (if at all) the situation could be improved.
  • Are there any regional trends in hate crimes (for example, hate crimes against a particular ethnicity being on the rise in one region, or hate crimes targeting a particular religion being down in a particular region)? There are times when numbers may vary from region to region, or state to state, depending on a variety of factors. Additionally, knowing about regional trends can potentially allow for regional solutions in dealing with certain types of hate crimes, as opposed to a national one-size-fits-all approach.

Questions such as these, as well as others I may not be thinking of at this moment, need answers, yet we don’t have them because of such limited data on hate crimes. If municipalities, and the country as a whole, are serious about anti-Asian hate, and hate in general, we need to have better data on hate crimes, which in turn can potentially inform policy on how to address these crimes. I say that because as much as bad data can result in bad policies, good data can help inform good policies.

The good news is that, as of the time of my writing this post, there is soon to be legislation introduced in United States Congress to try and address this issue.[3] That legislation, called the NO HATE Act, would, among other things, try to provide incentives for the reporting of hate crimes. This is a bill that, according to its sponsor in the United States House of Representatives, is soon to be reintroduced. While I don’t know whether the incentives for the reporting of hate crimes by municipalities in this bill are enough to result in more detailed reporting, it is promising that organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Jewish Committee—organizations that are extremely aware of the threats that issues with these crimes cause to the people they advocate for—have supported this bill in the past.[4] Of course, if a hate crimes policy expert happens to stumble upon this blog post, I would be interested in hearing an expert’s take on the legislation.

Regardless of whether the aforementioned legislation is a policy solution, what is undeniable is that there is a problem with the underreporting of hate crimes. A good way to honor the victims of COVID-related hate crimes, and hate crimes in general, would be to try and find a solution on this issue.

[1] https://www.propublica.org/article/police-dont-do-a-good-job-tracking-hate-crimes-a-new-report-calls-on-congress-to-take-action

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-asian-hate-crimes-increased-nearly-150-2020-mostly-n-n1260264

[3] The NO HATE Act has not yet been reintroduced in this session of Congress, so I’m linking to the text of the legislation from the previous session of Congress here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2043/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22%5C%22no+hate+act%5C%22%22%5D%7D&r=1&s=2. I should also note that the author of the bill in the United States House of Representatives says that the bill is soon to be reintroduced: https://beyer.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=5080

[4] The NAACP had an “Action Alert” in September 2019 urging members of Congress to endorse and support the NO HATE Act: https://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/NO-HATE.pdf. The American Jewish Committee gave people the ability to email their members of Congress and urge them to consider supporting the legislation: https://actnow.ajc.org/LZloT1U

Addressing the Shootings in the Atlanta Area

In my COVID update post last Thursday, I spent the first part of the post talking about the shootings that happened in three Atlanta-area spas. However, I think it is important to dedicate a full post to the shootings, considering some of the discourse that’s existed in the shootings’ aftermath.

First of all, my heart goes out to the families of the victims. No platitudes or words can ever possibly erase the fact that Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue should not have died in shootings.

As of the time I published this post, the exact motive of the shooting remains unknown, but much speculation about the shooting seems to center around ethnicity (most of the people killed were women of Asian descent, four of whom were of Korean descent) and the perpetrator’s alleged sex addiction.

But, regardless of whether the motive is ethnicity-related, sex addiction-related, some combination of the two, or neither one, we need to talk about two of the big issues raised in light of the shooting: anti-Asian hate and sex addiction itself (also known as compulsive sexual behavior[1]).

With regards to anti-Asian hate, while there is still an investigation into how much that was a motive of the shooter, what cannot be denied is that anti-Asian hate crimes have been sharply on the rise in the past year. In 16 of America’s largest cities, the targeting of Asian people has increased by 150% in the past year.[2] Even if the current investigations happen to find that anti-Asian bias wasn’t a motive by the shooter, it does not take away from the fact that anti-Asian speech and violence are a problem in this country, and a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that too many in American society (including the previous President of the United States) have either scapegoated people of Asian descent for COVID or fanned the flames of scapegoating people of Asian descent.[3] Regardless of the shooter’s motive, anti-Asian bias is an issue we need to grapple with.

Speaking of anti-Asian bias, and hate crimes in general, while the statistics indicate that anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise, the reporting of hate crimes in the United States is not what it should be. The reason is that data on hate crimes depends on the voluntary submission of data from local police agencies—something that results in severe undercounting of hate crimes.[4] This is an issue that needs to be discussed more in order to truly understand the extent of anti-Asian bias, which in turn could better inform decisions on how to address said hate. The underreporting of hate crimes frankly requires its own blog post, and I plan on talking about this issue more in next week’s blog post.

As for the issue of sex addiction/compulsive sexual behavior, I am deeply concerned that this shooting will end up stigmatizing people who struggle with compulsive sexual behavior in general. This is an issue some people struggle with, but it is not an issue that necessarily results in someone becoming violent as this shooter became violent. In fact, a doctor interviewed by USA Today who’s been treating people with compulsive sexual behavior for over 30 years says that under 1% of his patients have committed any violent act.[5] In spite of that, the most famous example of someone allegedly battling this sort of issue is this mass shooter, so I am therefore concerned that the shooting could create an issue for people battling compulsive sexual behavior.

Yet, at the same time, there is a history of the notion of sex addiction being used by people, usually white men, to try and absolve themselves for their responsibility with certain actions, especially actions that are misogynistic.[6] As such, while it is completely possible that this sort of issue played a role in the shootings, we should be careful not to automatically assume that issues with compulsive sexual behavior/sex addiction were a motive, in spite of what the shooter has said about a sex addiction playing a role in his motivation for killing people.

There is so much more that could be talked about, but given that investigations are ongoing as of the time I’m publishing this post, I will wait to say too much more until the current investigations run their course. That being said, if there is more that I feel needs to be said once that happens, I will be sure to do so.

[1] Based on the literature I’ve read from both the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes on Health, there seems to be some question about whether compulsive sexual behavior (which does exist) is clinically an addiction: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4677151/. I am not qualified to answer this question, but what I will say is that if the scientific experts at the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes on Health both believe that some people struggle with compulsive sexual behavior, I am also inclined to believe that some people struggle with compulsive sexual behavior. Additionally, since there is some question as to whether compulsive sexual behavior is clinically an addiction, I’m going to call it “compulsive sexual behavior” as much as I can in this blog post.

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-asian-hate-crimes-increased-nearly-150-2020-mostly-n-n1260264

[3] I talked about this in my post a couple of weeks ago about scapegoating groups during a crisis: https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2021/03/08/scapegoating-groups-during-a-crisis-is-nothing-new/

[4] https://www.propublica.org/article/police-dont-do-a-good-job-tracking-hate-crimes-a-new-report-calls-on-congress-to-take-action

[5] https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2021/03/18/atlanta-shooting-sex-addiction-what-it-can-turn-violent/4746720001/

[6] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/how-sex-addiction-has-historically-been-used-absolve-white-men-n1261623

Coronavirus Update From New York City: March 18, 2021

It is only appropriate that I start my post tonight by talking about the recent shootings that happened in three Atlanta-area spas.

While there are still investigations into the exact motive(s) of the shooter, the fact that six of the eight people killed were Asian women is striking. It is especially striking in light of the wave of anti-Asian hate crimes that has happened in this country in the past year. While the shooter himself blames the shooting on his sex addiction (an addiction he “wanted to eliminate”) and not on anti-Asian hate, I would not be surprised if the perpetrator had an unconscious anti-Asian bias. Regardless of whether anti-Asian bias was a factor in these shootings, we are overdue for a reckoning on how scapegoating people of Asian descent during COVID has led to a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes.

I do have some positive news to report this week, which is that my parents have received their second vaccine doses! They received their second doses yesterday, so they should now be fully vaccinated. They do have some side effects, but side effects that beat having COVID. There is obviously some question as to how long the vaccine doses last, but for now, at least they are fully vaccinated.

There is also some question as to when exactly I will be vaccinated or when exactly my brother will be vaccinated. Everyone should be eligible for the vaccines by May 1st, per President Biden, but just because everyone will be eligible for a vaccine doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to get a vaccine. We shall see. What I will say, though, is that as soon as I can get a vaccine, I will want to get one.

It’s rather ironic that their second vaccinations are coming nearly one year after my first COVID update post–a post that had a downbeat attitude at the time because my city was in danger of running out of medical supplies. It’s nice that this post can be at least somewhat more upbeat on the public health front

That’s not to say that everything is rosy, for the test positivity rate stubbornly remains just above 10%–a rate it’s been at for the past few weeks, it feels like. I’m hoping that it’s a number that will go down again as more people get vaccinated, but for now, the test positivity numbers are stubborn. It’s a number that reminds me that while I hope for some degree of normality to come back, there’s work to do in preventing the spread of this before we get back to normal, even if it is a modified normal.

Additionally, nearly 30% of hospital beds total and over half of ICU beds at the hospital closest to where I live are occupied with COVID patients–numbers that are still considered high to extreme stress from COVID, albeit not quite as much stress as the hospital felt a few weeks ago.

Before I close this post, I want to issue a call to action to all of my readers. The call to action is that, once you receive your vaccines, let others know that you have received them, with the intention of communicating to others that the vaccines are safe. There is still some vaccine hesitancy around, and I think it is important to address that hesitancy in the circles we’re in, to the best of our abilities.