We’ve known anti-Asian sentiment increased dramatically in the U.S. since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but new government data quantifies just how shockingly severe that jump has been.
Based on recently released FBI data, Sakshi Venkatraman of NBC News reported that “anti-Asian hate crimes increased more than 73% in 2020.” In contrast, overall hate crimes only rose by 13%, showing how disproportionate the increase has been.
According to Venkatraman, “the FBI’s data, originally released in August, was reposted Monday morning (Oct. 25) after an error was found in Ohio’s reporting system. The misreported statistics have been corrected, according to a bureau press release, and the new data reflects the accurate count for the 15,138 law enforcement agencies that reported numbers.”
The FBI’s data confirms exactly what reporters, community leaders and activists have been documenting throughout the pandemic: a dramatic increase in anti-Asian incidents and hate crimes — even if they weren’t reported to local authorities and officially “documented.”
According to the FBI, 279 documented hate crimes against Asians took place in 2020. In 2019, that number was just 161 — showing a 73% increase in attacks overall the following year. FBI said more than 55% of the offenders behind the 2020 attacks were white.
“Out of all incidents reported in 2020, including in categories other than race, anti-Asian bias ranked the eighth most common motivator,” Venkatraman said. “Anti-Black and anti-Latino crimes were higher in raw numbers, but neither demographic saw the steep increase that anti-Asian incidents did.”
In an interview with NBC News, Janelle Wong, a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, said, “the way that the media is covering and the way that people are understanding anti-Asian hate at this moment, in some ways, draws attention to these long-standing anti-Asian biases in U.S. society. But the racist kind of tropes that come along with it — especially that it’s predominantly Black people attacking Asian Americans who are elderly — there’s not really an empirical basis in that.”
Sadly, as disturbing as the FBI’s data is, experts say the actual number of hate crimes that took place in America during 2020 is likely much, much higher.
“There’s a tendency for Asian Americans to avoid reporting crimes in general,” Venkatraman said. “A survey by AAPI Data showed that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were the least likely to report hate incidents compared to other groups. And when it is reported, it largely falls to individual law enforcement agencies to translate their data to the federal level.”