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WASHINGTON – The number of hate crimes in the United States rose in 2020 to the highest level in 12 years, propelled by increasing assaults targeting Black and Asian victims, the FBI reported Monday.

In all, the federal agency tallied 7,759 hate crimes last year, a tumultuous 12 months marked by a global pandemic, a divisive presidential election and upheaval in the economy. The total marked an increase of 6% from 2019 and the most since 2008, when 7,783 hate crimes were reported.

It is the sixth time in the past seven years that the number of attacks rose. The number of hate crimes reported has increased by nearly 42% since 2014, according to federal data.

Attacks targeting Blacks rose from 1,930 to 2,755, and the number targeting Asians jumped from 158 to 274, the data showed. Those figures come as civil rights groups have warned of increasing hostility toward minorities, amid a rise in white nationalism and an increase in violent crime levels nationwide.

Attacks targeting Whites rose to 773, an increase of about 16%.

Congress mandates that the FBI collect hate-crime data annually based on reports from local law enforcement agencies. In 2020, the number of agencies that participated in that effort fell for at least the second consecutive year – to 15,136, which is 422 fewer than in 2019. Of those agencies that did participate, the vast majority reported no hate crimes.

Congressional Democrats and civil rights advocates have criticized what they describe as a large undercount in the number of hate crimes and other bias incidents, saying local police are poorly trained in how to identify and catalogue hate crimes and lack sufficient resources or interest in investigating them.

Stop AAPI Hate, a grass-roots groups based in California, reported 6,603 hate incidents against Asians from March 2020 – the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States – through March of this year.

Of that data, which was collected through self-reporting portals online and was not thoroughly vetted, about 65% consisted of verbal harassment, such as name calling, and 12.6% involved physical assault.

In May, Congress approved the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which requires the Justice Department to appoint an official to expedite investigations into hate crimes reported to federal authorities. The bill also seeks to improve reporting of hate crimes among localities by bolstering online reporting channels and offering resources in more languages to help immigrants.

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