'Words matter': Trump accused of fuelling attacks on Hispanics as violent hate crimes hit 16-year high

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The El Paso shooting suspect allegedly travelled 650 miles to target people of colour: Getty

Violent hate crimes have climbed to a 16-year year high in the US, with a surge in attacks on Hispanics, according to FBI data.

Reports of hate crimes dipped slightly in 2018 from an alarming increase the previous year, but violence rose as attacks increasingly targeting people instead of property.

In its review of statistics collected from more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies, the FBI said there had been 7,120 hate crimes reported last year. The figure was 55 fewer than 2017, a year in the same bureau data recorded a 17 per cent increase in hate crimes from 2016.​

Reports of hate-motivated attacks on people account for 61 per cent of all hate crimes reported in 2018, a rise of 11.7 per cent. There were 24 murders, up from 15 in 2017.

Nearly 60 per cent of reported hate crimes in 2018 were motivated by a person’s skin colour, ethnicity or ancestry, according to the data.

Hate crimes targeting black people dropped to the lowest share since the FBI began publishing the data in 1992, with incidents involving anti-black bias comprising 27 per cent of the total.

There were 671 victims in anti-Latino or Hispanic incidents in 2018, compared with 552 the year before, the FBI said in its annual Hate Crime Statistics report.

Of the 6,266 known offenders in all hate crime reports, 53.6 per cent were white.

The release of the data comes amid ongoing debate over Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies and follows the August mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in which the suspected gunman told police he was targeting Mexicans.

“We’re seeing the swapping of one derided group in the social-political arena for another,” said Brian Levin, director of the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. “Attacks against Muslims peaked around 2016 when terrorism was the concern. Now immigration is then number one issue and Latinos are being targeted.”

He added: ”We’re having a democratisation of hate. There is a reshuffling in who is being targeted.”

Janet Murguia, head of the Washington-based Latino civil rights organisation UnidosUS, said the president carried some responsibility for the increase.

“President Trump frequently refers to Latinos in the most hateful and bigoted ways, and words matter,” she said. “Having just visited El Paso and hearing first-hand from the victims of the tragic shooting there, I know that hateful words have hateful consequences, and can result in violence and even death.”

Religious bias accounted for 18.7 per cent of the hate crimes reported by the FBI data. Jews were targeted in nearly 58 per cent of those attacks, and Muslims were targeted in 14.5 per cent.

Nearly 17 per cent of all hate crimes involved an attack against a person’s sexual orientation. Nearly 60 per cent of those incidents were anti-gay violence against men.

Some 2.2 per cent of crimes targeted a person’s gender identity, while 2.1 per cent of reports were classed as disability hate crimes.

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