Anti-Asian hate crimes increased more than 73 percent in 2020, according to newly corrected FBI data. It’s a disproportionate uptick compared to hate crimes in general, which rose 13 percent.
The FBI’s data, originally released in August, was reposted Monday morning after an error was found in Ohio’s reporting system. The misreported statistics have been corrected, according to a bureau press release, and the new data reflects the accurate count for the 15,138 law enforcement agencies that reported numbers.
An online breakdown confirmed what scholars, activists and community leaders have known for a long time — that anti-Asian incidents took a dramatic upswing during the pandemic. The FBI reported 279 hate crimes against Asians in 2020, compared to 161 in 2019.
Out of all incidents reported in 2020, including in categories other than race, anti-Asian bias ranked the eighth most common motivator. Anti-Black and anti-Latino crimes were higher in raw numbers, but neither demographic saw the steep increase that anti-Asian incidents did.
White people made up more than 55 percent of the offenders across the board, the FBI said, a contrast to what viral clips perpetuated in the wake of anti-Asian violence.
“The way that the media is covering and the way that people are understanding anti-Asian hate at this moment, in some ways, draws attention to these long-standing anti-Asian biases in U.S. society,” Janelle Wong, a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, told NBC Asian America in June. “But the racist kind of tropes that come along with it — especially that it’s predominantly Black people attacking Asian Americans who are elderly — there’s not really an empirical basis in that.”
Graphic videos of attacks on Asian elders and a shooting that killed six women of Asian descent at spas in the Atlanta area in March reopened national conversations on Asian American civil rights and led many to ask what it takes to constitute a hate crime. They can be hard to prosecute, experts say, and the laws that define them can vary largely from state to state.
David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, told NBC News in 2018 that proving underlying bias or hate is tricky. “You’ve got to drill down in the background of that individual,” he said.
There's also the tendency for Asian Americans to avoid reporting crimes in general. A survey by AAPI Data showed that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were the least likely to report hate incidents compared to other groups. And when it is reported, it largely falls to individual law enforcement agencies to translate their data to the federal level.
“FBI hate crime data represents the tip of the iceberg and understates the magnitude of hate crime in America,” Sim J. Singh, national advocacy manager of The Sikh Coalition, told NBC News in 2017. “The only way to bridge the data gap is for law enforcement agencies to adopt mandatory hate crime reporting.”