Number of hate crimes increased in Virginia in 2017

WASHINGTON — Virginia experienced a sharp increase in hate crimes in 2017 compared to 2016, according to a new report.

Virginia State Police produced “Crime in Virginia,” a compilation of all the crime and arrests in the state during 2017. The 130-page report came out in May.

State police superintendent Gary T. Settle explained the statistics collected give police the ability to decide how best to “dedicate their limited resources toward the reduction of crime in their communities.”

The report defines hate crimes as “crimes motivated by the offender’s bias.”

In Virginia, a crime is considered a hate crime only if the investigation revealed “sufficient information to lead a reasonable and prudent person to conclude that the offender’s actions were motivated, in whole or in part, by bias against race, religion, disability, ethnicity or sexual-orientation.”

The state’s document breaks down the 202 hate crimes in 2017 into the following categories:

  • Racial: 89
  • Religious: 44
  • Ethnicity: 20
  • Sexual Orientation: 38
  • Disability: 11

Most of the crimes were either assaults, with 82, or vandalism, with 93, the report said.

Two homicides and three sex offenses were considered hate crimes in 2017.

In 2016, only 137 crimes were considered hate crimes. That year, 69 were assaults, while 43 were categorized as damage/vandalism.

One of the most sensational crimes of 2017 came on Aug. 12, when police say James Fields drove his car into a crowd of people protesting against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

Heather Heyer was killed in the crash and 35 others were injured.

While many analysts suggested Fields could be charged with a hate crime or considered a domestic terrorist, that has not yet happened.

Fields was indicted on 10 felony counts, including first-degree murder, in December. His trial is set for November.

Some incidents that prompt investigations and make headlines do not become hate crimes.

For example, in 2017 residents of Leesburg and Alexandria complained about the distribution of neo-Nazi and racist propaganda. However, that kind of hate speech is protected by the First Amendment.

“When we think of some major stories from the past year, the rally in Charlottesville, some of the instances of the KKK or other white supremacist groups distributing literature, that type of activity then plays directly into emboldening or encouraging people to act on that rhetoric and commit crimes,” said William Johnson, a Ph.D. candidate and instructor in the criminology department at George Mason University.

Breaking down the statistics in even greater detail, the report reveals that anti-Jewish crimes increased significantly, from six in 2016 to 22 in 2017. Crimes against African-Americans also increased sharply from 37 in 2016 to 68 in 2017.

“If people believe that certain populations — Jewish people, African-Americans — are in some way posing a threat, then we would expect to see [neo-Nazis and white supremacists] act on that. And we see that specifically in the increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes and also anti-Black hate crimes from 2016 to 2017,” Johnson said.

The age, race and gender of those who commit hate crimes also changed in 2017.

In 2017, the number of white people who committed hate crimes rose to 70, up from 46 in 2016.

Fewer African-Americans were considered to have committed hate crimes, dropping to 47 in 2017 from 51 the year before.

The 2017 report was dedicated to four Virginia police officers who were killed in the line of duty.

They were Curtis Allen Bartlett, of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office in southwestern Virginia, Berke Bates and Henry Cullen of the Virginia State Police, who were killed in the helicopter crash following the Charlottesville protest in August and Michael Walker, who was shot and killed while on patrol in Richmond last May.

The report found assaults on officers increased almost 30 percent. In 2017, 1,654 police officers were assaulted and one was killed.

In 2016, 1,278 police were assaulted while two were killed in the line of duty.

Dan Friedell

Dan Friedell is a digital writer for WTOP. He came to the D.C. area in 2007 to work as digital editor for, and since then has worked for a number of local and national news organizations.

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