Congress passed the Michael Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (18 U.S.C. § 249) in 2009. The FBI reports there were 7100 hate crimes in the U.S. in 2017, and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates there could be as many as 250,000 hate crimes committed in this country each year.
According to an August 12, 2019 TRAC report, roughly 50 hate crime referrals are sent to federal prosecutors each year, the overwhelming majority of which are not prosecuted.
Hate crime prosecutions have significantly declined under the Trump Justice Department.
Hate Crime Prosecutions Down
During Fiscal Year 2017 and Fiscal Year 2018, as well as during the first nine months of Fiscal Year 2019, only 16 hate crimes prosecutions were undertaken by the Trump Justice Department.
While Trump Justice Department prosecutors in Texas say that a federal hate crime prosecution will probably be undertaken in the El Paso mass shooting case, that is probably more proverbial hot air than honest intentions.
Through June 2019, TRAC reports that only one of the seven hate crimes referrals sent to federal prosecutors in the Northern and Western Districts in Texas during the Trump presidency resulted in an actual prosecution
This is not unusual per se.
In a March 2019 ProPublica report, Rachael Glickhouse found that of the nearly 1000 hate crimes reported to the police in Texas between 2010 and 2015, “fewer than 10 were successfully prosecuted.”
The same reluctance to successfully prosecute hate crimes in Texas exist across most states in this country. ProPublica found that, “eighty-seven percent of police agencies that sent their data to the FBI in 2017 reported zero hate crimes. After reviewing more than 2,000 police reports, our partner BuzzFeed News found 15 hate-related assaults in 10 cities that reported no hate crimes to the FBI.”
While both the attitude and actions of state authorities in handling hate crimes is extremely disturbing, they pale in comparison to the virtual blind eye the Trump Justice Department has cast on hate crime prosecutions.
Hate Crimes Increase, Prosecutions Decrease
In a February 2019 report, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said there was a record 1,020 hate crimes in this country in 2018 as, “President Trump continued to fan the flames of white resentment over immigration and the country’s changing demographics.”
The proof indeed lies in the pudding: hate crimes significantly increased through Trump’s first three full years in office, reports the SPLC, yet their prosecution diminished.
Heidi Beirich, Director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, put it this way: “The numbers tell a striking story – that this president is not simply a polarizing figure but a radicalizing one. Rather than trying to tamp down hate, as presidents of both parties have done, President Trump elevates it – with both his rhetoric and his policies. In doing so, he’s given people across America the go-ahead to act on their worst instincts.”
That is precisely what the 21-year-old shooter was doing when he walked into the Walmart Super Center on August 5, 2019 and slaughtered 22 innocent people: he was following his “worst instincts” given a green light by the President of the United States and the fanatical, right-wing Trump adherents at Fox News.
In a January 2019 post and in a July 2019 post, we pointed out that white collar and child sex trafficking prosecutions are also down under the Trump Justice Department. We have said that the Trump presidency has proven to be one of the most corrupt in American history and that his administration has had its problems dealing with child sex trafficking as evidenced by the Jeffery Epstein case.
Free Pass to Commit Hate Crimes
But it is the free pass given to hate crimes by Trump’s Justice Department that we find most troubling. Most Americans believe the president is a racist, respected media outlets call the president an “accomplice” to the El Paso mass shooting, and the president refuses to condemn white nationalism despite its ideological goal to fuel hate crime violence in this country.
The historic systemic racism that has infected every facet of this nation’s criminal justice system now has a new social and political legitimacy.
For example, African Americans are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white and Hispanic men, African Americans disproportionately account (46 percent) for the number of executions carried out in this country, and African Americans are incarcerated for longer periods than other races.
We suspect that hate crimes will significantly increase during the 2020 presidential campaign. President Trump has made it abundantly clear that he will lean on racial division as the primary strategy of his reelection bid. Against this racist backdrop, it is highly unlikely that Attorney General William Barr, who serves as the president’s personal consigliere, will make hate crime prosecutions a priority.
The nation’s justice system will pay the ultimate price for these racist policies.