Jussie Smollett’s name has been dominating headlines for weeks. On January 29th, the Empire actor claimed that he was attacked early in the morning by two men shouting racial and homophobic slurs. He said the men beat him, threw a rope over his neck, and poured an unknown chemical on him. In the following days, Smollett stuck to his story, even making an appearance on Good Morning America to denounce those who doubted him. However, on February 20th, NBC Chicago reported that the actor had been arrested on suspicion of filing a false police report. He allegedly paid two men to stage the attack, according to CNN. Smollett and his legal team have continued to maintain his innocence in the face of these accusations.
Right now, it seems possible that Smollett faked the attack. But even if this is (unfortunately) the case, it’s important to remember that hate crimes remain a growing problem in the U.S. regardless of this isolated incident.
According to the FBI’s 2017 Hate Crime Statistics report (the most recent one available), there were 7,175 reported hate crimes in 2017. The New York Times notes that this was a 17% increase from 2016 and the third year in a row that the number of hate crimes has increased. The FBI’s data shows that, of the 2017 attacks, 58.1% were motivated by race or ethnicity and 15.9% were motivated by the victim’s sexuality.
And because hate crimes aren’t always reported, they could be much more common than we realize. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that there were, on average, 250,000 hate crimes in the U.S. each year between 2004 and 2015. Meanwhile, a partnership between News21 and the journalism nonprofit ProPublica found there were more than than 2.4 million suspected bias crimes between 2012 and 2016, despite the fact that only 12% of police departments reported any hate crimes to the FBI during that timeframe.
Additionally, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that hate groups have increased by 30% over the past four years (and increased by 7% in 2018 alone). The group believes Trump and his xenophobic and dog-whistling rhetoric is to blame.
And out of these crimes, the number of suspected or confirmed hoaxes is small.
A 2018 study from California State University, San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism found “approximately two dozen cases of confirmed or suspected instances of false reporting ‘hoaxes’ over the past couple years.” Again, that’s out of thousands of total hate crimes.
It’s crucial that we continue to listen to and believe people when they come forward with reports of hate crimes—regardless of the outcome of Jussie Smollett’s highly publicized (and politicized) case.