How Common Are Hate Crimes In The United States? Charleston's Church Shooting Is An Extreme Incident, But Not An Isolated One

On Wednesday night, one of America's oldest and largest black churches was attacked by a white male during a prayer service. After attending the prayer meeting for about an hour, the gunman opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing at least nine people. The shooting prompted the immediate question: "was it a hate crime?" Officials believe it qualifies and will investigate the incident as a hate crime. The next question that comes to mind is: How often do hate crimes occur in the U.S.? Unfortunately, the Emanuel AME Church shooting is not an atypical incident.

The suspect has been identified by officials as 21-year-old Dylann Roof. While authorities remain on the hunt for Roof and investigating possible motives, many believe that the crime was racially fueled: the suspect allegedly said to a survivor of the shooting that he "had to do it." Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said at a news conference:

I do believe this was a hate crime.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley was even more certain of the nature of the crime, telling reporters:

The only reason why someone could walk into a church and shoot people praying is out of hate. The only reason.... This is an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate and with a deranged mind.

According to the FBI's Hate Crime Statistics Act, hate crimes are defined as:

Crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, gender or gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

With the help of cities, universities and colleges, metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties, state police agencies, and other agencies, the FBI has been compiling comprehensive statistics on hate crimes every year. The agency's hate crime statistics for 2013, the most recent year with complete stats, list 5,928 hate crime incidents in the U.S. that year. These incidents resulted in 7,242 victims.

This number might seem high, but the overall number of hate crimes has been on the decline since the '90s. In a 17-year period from 1995 to 2012, the number of hate crimes per year has gone from nearly 8,000 to under 6,000.

However, of the hate crimes that occur, race remains the biggest motivating factor. According to the FBI's statistics, the bias breakdown is as follows:

  • Racial: 48.5 percent
  • Sexual Orientation: 20.8 percent
  • Religious: 17.4 percent
  • Ethnicity: 11.1 percent
  • Disability: 1.4 percent
  • Gender Identity: 0.5 percent
  • Gender: 0.3 percent

In 2013, of all the 5,928 total incidents, race was reported for 5,814 hate crime offenders. Of these offenders, 52.4 percent were white.

While the incident was indisputably shocking, it seems, sadly, that the Emanuel AME Church shooting is just one of many in its category.