Although some questioned whether Attorney General Sessions would make hate crime enforcement a priority, I speculated that — particularly in light of the nature of the federal hate crimes law, which requires proof of willfully-caused bodily injury or an attempt to cause bodily injury through the use of certain dangerous devices or weapons, see 18 U.S.C. 249 — those concerns were likely overstated and that General Sessions would continue robust hate crimes enforcement. So far, this has proven to be the case.
General Sessions recently delivered these encouraging remarks at a national hate crime summit, in which he said “hate crimes are violent crimes. No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship.” Moreover, the Justice Department announced back in April the creation of a special hate crimes subcommittee as part of its Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. And in recent months, the Civil Rights Division has announced several new hate crime indictments (see, e.g., here and here and here).
Still, less encouraging news came recently, regarding the under-reporting of hate crimes. According to this new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 54% of violent hate crimes were not reported. Some media coverage here and here. There are a variety of explanations for the under-reporting, as noted in the report.
I hope that by making hate crimes an enforcement priority, the Department can incentivize greater reporting participation and provide the public, and law enforcement partners around the country, with more accurate information about the frequency of, and risks associated with, hate crime behavior. Any comprehensive national approach to violent crime should, as the Sessions Justice Department has thus far acknowledged, include attention to bias-motivated violence.