There is good news and bad news in the preliminary FBI national statistics on hate crimes in America released this week.
The good news: National hate crimes plummeted 23 percent, to 7,462 in 2002 from a record 9,730 in 2001, according to data collected by the FBI under the 1990 Hate Crime Statistics Act.
And the number of hate crimes against Jewish individuals and institutions nationally dropped to 931 in 2002 from 1,043 in 2001.
The bad news: The percentage of hate crimes against Jews rather than against other minorities rose to 12.5 percent in 2002 from 10.5 percent in 2001.
This in comparison to 2000, when there were 8,063 hate crimes reported by the FBI, with 1,109 against Jews representing 14 percent of the total.
Hate crimes were defined as crimes motivated by bias against race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability.
Participation in the annual FBI survey by municipal and state law enforcement agencies is strictly voluntary, so there is no way to gauge the full meaning of the numbers until the FBI releases more information next month, said Michael Lieberman, director of the Civil Rights Planning Center for the Anti-Defamation League based in Washington.
Among the new information to be released are the names of the 12,073 law enforcement agencies that participated in the survey, the most in the program in its 12 years.
Nevertheless, some information can be gleaned from the data.
In New York, the number of hate crimes dropped to 693 in 2002 from 712 in 2001. How many were against Jews is unknown, however, because the FBI in this preliminary phase did not break down the crimes in categories by state or municipality.
But nationally, of the 1,426 religion-based crimes, 931 were directed against Jews and Jewish institutions: 65 percent.
Lieberman noted that the number of anti-Islamic crimes nationally plunged 67 percent, to 155 in 2002 from 481 in 2001. In 2000 there were 28 reported anti-Islamic crimes in America.
In addition, national origin and ethnicity crimes dropped from 2,098 in 2001 to 1,102 in 2002. In 2000 there were 911.
"We are pleased that this FBI study indicates that reported hate crimes have declined from last year’s record high numbers," said ADL national director Abraham Foxman in a statement. "Still it is impossible to be complacent about a report that identifies almost 7,500 acts of vandalism and violence."
Lieberman said the percentage rise in crimes against Jews was "unwelcome."
Foxman called for Congress to enact legislation allowing federal authorities to "provide the full range of assistance" to local officials prosecuting hate crimes, including giving the feds the power to investigate and prosecute hate crimes "in those circumstance where state and local officials cannot or will not act themselves."
He was referring to a pending bill in the U.S. Senate (S. 966), called the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, which would enable federal authorities to work with local law enforcement in extraordinary cases. New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, both Democrats, are cosponsoring the measure.
The bill has yet to be sponsored in the House, Lieberman said.