BOSTON — The number of reported hate crimes in Massachusetts dropped last year even as incidents nationally surged to the highest level in years, according to newly released federal data.

The state reported 310 hate crimes last year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 2020 Hate Crimes report. That's a 17% decline over the previous year.

A majority of the reported hate crimes, or 174, targeted individuals' race, ethnicity or ancestry, the data shows. Most involved vandalism or intimidation, but there were at least 42 cases of aggravated assault.

A majority of the perpetrators were white, the FBI said.

At least 56 of the reported incidents targeted victims because of their religion, while another 46 involved a person's sexual orientation.

State leaders and civil rights groups say reports of hate crimes have surged in the past several years, fanned by the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump's racially charged campaigns and presidency.

Attorney General Maura Healey has reported thousands of calls to a hate crimes hotline set up a few years ago by her office's civil rights division. Gov. Charlie Baker resurrected a long-dormant task force to advise his office on preventing and responding to hate crimes.

To be sure, the state reported a spike in incidents in 2017, the year Trump took office. There were 434 reported hate crimes that year, the data shows.

Federal officials point out the latest data is likely undercounted because law enforcement agencies are not required to submit information on hate crimes to the FBI for the annual crime report.

In Massachusetts, at least 43 police departments didn't submit their data for last year, the FBI said.

Likewise, an online map created by the Anti-Defamation League appears to contradict the FBI data, showing the number of hate crimes in Massachusetts increased from 235 in 2019 to 355 in 2020.

The organization has identified 71 hate crimes in the first seven months of 2021, including the case of a Winthrop man described by Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins as a white supremacist, who shot and killed a former State Police trooper and an Air Force veteran, both of whom were black.

The ADL points out that its map is not limited to hate crimes reported by the FBI, but includes other incidents that don't meet the narrow statutory definition of a hate crime.

Nationally, there was a 6.1% increase in hate crime reports in 2020, many motivated by race, ethnicity and ancestry, and by gender identity, according to the FBI data.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland noted that the newly released data "does not account for the many hate crimes that go unreported.”

"These hate crimes and other bias-related incidents instill fear across entire communities and undermine the principles upon which our democracy stands," he said in a statement. "All people in this country should be able to live without fear of being attacked or harassed because of where they are from, what they look like, whom they love or how they worship."

The number of hate crimes targeting Black people jumped nearly 40% last year compared with 2019, the data shows.

In 2020, there were 2,755 reported hate crimes targeting Black people, according to the FBI, making them the most targeted racial group.

Hate crimes targeting people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent skyrocketed by 70% last year compared with 2019, the FBI said.

That rise coincided with the pandemic, as Trump and his supporters ratcheted rhetoric about China, where the coronavirus originated.

President Joe Biden in April signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which is aimed at addressing the rise in anti-Asian American crimes.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com

Trending Video

Recommended for you