On Wednesday night, a gunman opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine members of the historically black church. The prime suspect, a white 21-year-old man, Dylann Storm Roof, was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina, and taken into custody Thursday morning. When speaking about the crime at a news conference Thursday, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said, "The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate." The Charleston Police Department is handling the case as a hate crime, and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting as well. This devastating attack is not an isolated incident though, as the majority of hates crimes are based on race in the U.S., proving that racism is still very much a problem.
Charleston police chief Greg Mullen said in a news conference with Mayor Riley Thursday that it's not yet clear if the shooter was specifically targeting anyone "other than the church itself." The shooter killed six women and three men, including the church's pastor, Clementa Pinckney, and three others in the church at the time survived. Pinckney was a leader in Charleston's black community, formerly serving as a state senator and helping with campaigns for police body cameras after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man, Walter Scott.
Congress defined 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, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation" and the term includes offenses like murder, arson, and vandalism. A "racially motivated" hate crime is one that was committed because of racial prejudices.
Nearly half of all hate crimes in America are based on race. From a total of 5,922 single-bias hate crimes reported in 2013, 48.5 percent were racially motivated, according to the FBI's most recent hate crime statistics. That means there were almost 3,000 racial hate crimes that year. The other types of hate crimes occurred with much less frequency, with sexual orientation being the second most common bias at 21 percent. Not all hate crimes based on race committed against a black person, though most are. The FBI found that 66 percent of racially motivated hate crime offenses in 2013 were due to anti-black or anti-African American bias, 21 percent were based on anti-white bias, and the other 13 percent weren't specified. The total number of hate crimes and the percentage that are racially motivated aren't decreasing either — in 2012, there were 5,790 single-bias incidents, of which 48.3 percent were based on race.
Another notable racially motivated hate crime was just prosecuted in February. Three young white men were sentenced to prison, from seven to 50 years, for conspiring to deliberately run over a black man, James Anderson, with a truck. Anderson's death drew national attention after a surveillance video of the murder was released. Racially motivated hate crimes don't always involve murder though — they can also be harassment. In 2011, three white San Jose State University students were charged with hate crimes for bullying their black roommate, closing a bicycle lock around his neck, and decorating their room with the Confederate flag, Nazi symbols, and a white board with a racial slur on it.
It's impossible to deny that racism still exists in the U.S. when biases about people's skin color continue to fuel so many crimes. While thousands of black Americans are victims of hate crimes every year, we can't call ourselves a post-racial society.