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Attacks On Minorities Are At Their Highest Level In 12 Years, FBI Reports

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hate crimes in the U.S. are on the rise. The FBI reports that bias-motivated attacks are at their highest level in 12 years. NPR's Carrie Johnson is here to talk with us about the new data. And Carrie, what is the FBI saying about these incidents over the past year?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The bureau says these crimes are up 6% year over year. And that increase is really notable, especially when it comes to hate crimes that are motivated by the race or ethnicity of the victims. The FBI says the Black community bore the brunt of these incidents in 2020. But Asian American and Pacific Islanders were also targets of a lot of hate. The attorney general, Merrick Garland, says there needs to be an urgent response. He says all people in this country should be able to live without fear of being attacked or harassed because of where they're from, what they look like, whom they love or how they worship.

SHAPIRO: So what's the federal government doing to try to prevent these incidents and bring perpetrators to justice when they happen?

C JOHNSON: The Justice Department has been reaching out to communities. It's trying to make information about how to contact authorities available in languages other than English. And it's encouraging states and local jurisdictions to report these crimes to the FBI. Right now, these reports are voluntary. Experts say these crimes are severely underreported. Here's just one example. The Anti-Defamation League says more than 60 large jurisdictions nationwide reported no incidents - none at all - to the FBI last year. And they say that's really hard to believe. And all too often, there's another issue. Survivors of these crimes don't report to authorities because they lack trust in the police or they worry about the consequences if they're undocumented people.

SHAPIRO: What are civil rights groups saying about this increase in hate crimes?

C JOHNSON: I reached Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, a few hours ago. He says the Justice Department needs to bring more criminal prosecutions. He says it's about accountability.

DERRICK JOHNSON: We must turn back the clock of the rise in racial hate crimes and hold people accountable and make sure social media platforms are not being leveraged to sow seeds of hate because when that happens, communities are put in danger. And in fact, our democracy is put in danger.

SHAPIRO: Carrie, you also mentioned that attacks have increased against Asian Americans. What are those groups saying?

C JOHNSON: Stop AAPI Hate, which advocates for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, says since March of 2020, they've received over 9,000 reports about verbal harassment, discrimination and even physical assaults targeting Asian Americans. Those reports are from all 50 states. And things have gotten so bad that some Asian Americans are going outside only after they put on a mask, sunglasses and a hat, a kind of protection from people who might want to harass them.

Manju Kulkarni co-founded Stop AAPI Hate. She says the Justice Department can also step up. She wants to see them file civil lawsuits over discrimination in hateful incidents in the workplace and in schools. She points out that those civil cases have a lower legal bar to succeed than criminal cases. Here's a little more from her.

MANJU KULKARNI: When we look at civil prosecution, what one of the benefits is, is that it is forward-looking. You have an opportunity to change behavior. You have an opportunity for trainings, and it's really forward-facing.

SHAPIRO: All right. That is NPR's Carrie Johnson on the new hate crimes report from the FBI. Thank you very much, Carrie.

C JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.