WASHINGTON — More than 6,000 hate crimes were reported to U.S. law enforcement agencies in 2011 — a 6% decrease from 2010, the FBI said Monday. But crimes based on the victim's sexual orientation increased slightly.
Nearly half of the 6,222 hate crimes reported in 2011 were racially motivated, the FBI said, with nearly three-fourths directed at African Americans. More than 16% were motivated by anti-white bias.
About 59% of the known offenders for all reported hate crimes were white, and 21% were black, the agency said.
The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors and seeks to combat bigotry, welcomed the overall decrease in hate crimes but highlighted those motivated by sexual orientation.
"The increase in the number of reported hate crimes directed against gays and lesbians, now the second most frequent category of crime, is especially disturbing," the ADL said in a statement.
There were 1,508 reported sexual orientation hate crimes in 2011, up from 1,470 in 2010, an increase of about 2.6%. Overall, nearly 21% of hate crimes were motivated by sexual orientation bias, the FBI said, with men victimized the majority of the time.
Religious bigotry accounted for nearly 20% of reported hate crimes — the majority anti-Semitic, and another 13% anti-Islamic.
"Jews and Jewish institutions continued to be principal targets, accounting for 63% of all religion-based hate crimes in 2011 — showing, once again, that anti-Semitism is still a serious and deeply entrenched problem in America," the ADL statement said.
Of the 891 offenses based on perceived ethnicity or national origin, the FBI said, 57% stemmed from anti-Latino bias.
The numbers in the FBI report reflect crimes reported to authorities, thus understating the incidence, experts say.
"FBI statistics vastly underestimate the actual number of hate crimes committed in the United States," said Jack Levin, a hate-crime expert at Northeastern University in Boston.
Many victims are reluctant to report attacks. Immigrants, for example, may remember law enforcement officials as representatives of a repressive regime in their country of origin. Gay, bisexual and transgender victims may fear that police will be insensitive if they report the incident.
Furthermore, Levin said, perpetrators are "not always stupid enough to leave evidence at a crime scene," so it is not always clear what is a hate crime and what isn't.
"When the Justice Department asks victims anonymously whether they have been targeted for hate offenses, they get a figure that approaches 200,000 hate crimes annually," Levin said.