We don’t expect Presi- dent Donald J. Trump to take responsibility for the spike in hate crimes, even though he used his presidential campaign last year to fuel racial, ethnic and religious discord.
But we do expect Trump to harness the power of the presidency for the good of the nation. He should warn the purveyors of hate they will be crushed by the full weight of the law.
Trump should also deliver a heartfelt apology for his inflammatory rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail.
Will either of those things happen? Probably not, given how Trump has conducted himself since taking office in January.
But neither he nor members of his administration can ignore the data made public this week by the FBI showing a nearly 5 percent increase in hate crimes in 2016 from the previous year.
In raw numbers: 6,121 incidents last year; 5,850 in 2015.
It isn’t surprising the FBI report has grabbed the headlines. Interestingly, the Houston Chronicle story featured a large photograph of members of the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross and a swastika after a white pride rally in Georgia in 2016. The Klan is among the groups that have consolidated into the Nationalist Front.
The picture is a reminder that America’s sordid racist past is, indeed, prologue.
Consider these statistics from the FBI’s hate-crime report, as detailed by the Huffington Post:
Fifty-eight percent of the crimes in 2016 were motivated by racial bias, with more than half the race-based incidents targeting black Americans.
Hate crimes targeting Latinos rose 15 percent, while those targeting Arabs and whites rose 38 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
Twenty-one percent of the hate crimes the FBI counted last year were motivated by religious bias. Of those, 54 percent were anti-Jewish and 25 percent were anti-Muslim.
Eighteen percent of the crimes were motivated by sexual-orientation bias, with gay men being the primary targets.
“The much-anticipated FBI report is the most comprehensive hate-crime data available for the divisive 2016 election year and backs up earlier evidence of rising hate in America,” the Huffington Post reported. “The Southern Poverty Law Center documented a wave of hate incidents in the months following the November 2016 election.”
The Post quoted Brian Levin, a professor at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, as saying, “We now have an unbroken streak of presidential election year increases [in hate crimes] going back to 1992, around the time national data collection commenced.”
But while the 2016 data is a shock to the senses and should serve as a call to action for all decent Americans, critics contend the FBI report does not fully reflect what’s going on in the country.
In a story aired Monday, National Public Radio noted that civil-rights groups argue the study undercounts the number of crimes.
Although more than 15,000 local law- enforcement agencies submitted their statistics to the FBI, there were 92 cities with populations of more than 100,000 people that either reported zero hate crimes or didn’t report at all.
The story quoted Sim Singh of the Sikh Coalition as saying this about the underreporting:
“Data drives policy and guides problem-solving. So if lawmakers and the American public believe that hate crimes aren’t a big problem, it’s difficult to mobilize the political will that’s necessary to combat the problem.”
It’s also difficult when the occupant of the White House is someone who appealed to the basest instincts of voters in his win-at-all-costs campaign for president.
Trump’s racist, homophobic and chauvinistic rants endeared him to a large number of voters who were unhappy with the changes occurring in America.
It’s noteworthy the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is Jewish. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism when she married Kushner.
Perhaps the FBI data showing a 3 percent increase in anti-Jewish crimes in 2016 from the year before will cause the president to temper his incendiary rhetoric.