WASHINGTON – Reports of hate crimes against gays and religious groups increased sharply in 2008, according to new FBI data released Monday.
Overall, the number of reported hate crimes increased about 2 percent. These same figures show a nearly 11 percent increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation, and a nearly 9 percent increase in hate crimes based on religion.
The largest category, racially-motivated hate crimes, fell less than 1 percent.
Among all categories of hate crimes, roughly a third are vandalism or property damage. About 30 percent involve intimidation of some kind, and another 30 percent were physical attacks against people.
The FBI does not compare year-to-year trends in hate crimes, saying the number of agencies reporting changes too much. And in fact, the bureau cautioned that the increase reported Monday might well be due to more agencies tracking such incidents.
In 2008, 2,145 different agencies reported hate crimes incidents, while the year before 2,025 agencies did this reporting.
In total, there were 7,783 hate crimes reported to the FBI last year, and seven murders were categorized as hate crimes.
Half of all hate crimes are motivated by race, according to the FBI. One out of every five is driven by religious bias, and one out of every six is based on sexual orientation bias.
The new statistics come less than a month after President Barack Obama signed a bill expanding those covered by the federal law against hate crimes. Previously, the law had protected those attacked on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.
The new law signed by Obama now covers crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It also removes the restriction that federal authorities can launch investigations of victims who were engaged in federally protected activities like voting or free speech.