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Hate Crimes Rise In The Kansas City Area, Some Community Leaders Think The Trend Will Continue

Damian Dovarganes
Chinese-Japanese American student Kara Chu, 18, holds a pair of heart balloons at a rally to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence outside the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. An annual report, the FBI reported that hate crime reached its highest level in more than a decade last year. Compared to 2019, crimes against those of Asian and Pacific Islander descent jumped 56%. Anti-Black hate crimes increased nearly 40%.

Hate crimes reported in Kansas and Missouri during 2020 increased significantly, but unreliable data collection and severe underreporting mean the real figures are likely even higher.

The FBI’s most recent data show Missouri, Kansas, and the rest of the country experienced a substantial increase in hate crimes reported in 2020.

In Missouri, 115 hate crimes were reported, up 29% from 2019. Kansas saw an even bigger bump, with a 65% increase. There were 124 hate crimes reported, which was the most in Kansas since at least 1990.

Law enforcement officials across the country reported 7,759 criminal incidents to the FBI last year, the highest number since 2008. It’s an increase of about 450 incidents from 2019, though fewer agencies reported hate crimes in 2020 than in previous years.

The figures don’t surprise Gavriella Geller, director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau and the American Jewish Committee in Kansas City, who expects 2021 numbers to be even higher.

“That is generally the trajectory that we've been on for several years now,” Geller said. “Whenever you see periods of social or economic anxiety, there's going to be efforts to pin down blame on scapegoat groups.”

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the racial reckoning spurred by the police killing of George Floyd, Geller said African Americans, people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, Jews and Muslims have all found themselves on the receiving end of hate.

According to the FBI’s 2020 numbers, Kansas had 28 hate crimes motivated by the offender’s bias against religion, including 10 anti-Eastern Orthodox, six anti-Jewish and four anti-Sikh crimes. There were 26 such hate crimes reported in the state in 2019.

Missouri had five anti-Islamic, three anti-Sikh and two anti-Jewish crimes reported, with 14 total anti-religion crimes reported for the year, a small decrease from 2019.

There were 1,174 anti-religion crimes reported to the FBI nationally in 2020, but statistics kept by the Anti-Defamation League show antisemitic incidents alone topped 2,000.

Problems with data collection

Hate crime statistics are notoriously difficult to collect, and some community leaders in Kansas City expect the true numbers are much higher.

“Despite a national rise in reported hate crimes, underreporting remains a severe obstacle to the investigation of these incidents, leading to a lack of accountability for bias-motivated offenses that can intimidate, isolate, and terrorize entire communities,” Aaron Ahlquist, ADL Southern Division policy director, told KCUR in an email.

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Protesters calling for accountability in the death of Donnie Sanders, a Black man shot and killed by Kansas City police on last March, blocked traffic on Ward Parkway last year. Community leaders said one possible factor in the rise in anti-Black hate crimes could be how the visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement energized antagonistic actors. "When movements like that expose fault lines in American society, it energizes people on either end of the debate,” Gavriella Geller said.

“The atmosphere is such that many African Americans and other brown people do not report all of the hate crimes that have gone against them,” said the Rev. Rodney Williams, president of the Kansas City, Missouri, branch of the NAACP. “They feel that the odds are stacked against them, that they're not going to get any satisfaction.”

African Americans most victimized

Most race-based hate crimes last year in Kansas, Missouri and across the country targeted African Americans. Of the 4,939 hate crime incidents targeting people because of their race, more than 55% were directed at Black people.

In Missouri, nearly 70% of the 76 crimes based on race victimized African Americans, who make up about 12% of the state’s population. There were also 12 anti-White incidents reported, and three against Latinos.

Authorities in Kansas reported 85 crimes based on race last year, more than double the year before, with 54 of last year’s incidents targeting African Americans, 19 targeting white people, and seven anti-Hispanic or Latino incidents reported.

“If people felt free to report, and felt something was going to change or something was going to get done, I would say you’d probably see three, maybe four times the number,” Williams said.

Geller doesn’t see the same mistrust among her community, but noted the act of reporting a discriminatory incident could be traumatic enough to keep someone from calling the police.

“Sometimes people just want to put those instances behind them and not have to relive them,” she said.

Comparing ‘apples to apples’

The Stop AAPI Hate coalition was launched last year, after a gunman killed eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent, in a string of shootings in the Atlanta area.

They track incidents of hate, violence, harassment, and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S, and reported more than 6,600 such incidents from March 2020 to March 2021. But for 2020, law enforcement authorities nationwide reported only 288 anti-Asian or -Pacific Islander incidents to the FBI.

That discrepancy arises because not every incident of discrimination is a crime, Geller said, and because reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI is completely voluntary.

In May, POLITICO reported that nearly a quarter of big cities didn’t report a single hate crime, “a statistical near-impossibility,” and more than 80% of the 15,000 law enforcement agencies didn’t report a single hate crime, including Olathe and Overland Park, Kansas, and Columbia, Missouri.

According to the FBI, Kansas’ stats are based on data from 359 of 418 law enforcement agencies in the state that year. In Missouri, 549 of 594 agencies reported data.

All that variability means from quarter to quarter, and year to year, “comparing is not exactly apples to apples,” Geller said.

Passed as part of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in May, the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act is aimed at mitigating the problem. Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran was the bill’s original co-sponsor.

“Collecting information on hate crimes across the country will help us better understand the daily threats facing racial, religious and ethnic communities,” Moran told senators when the bill was discussed.

To that end, the law supports enforcement agencies that establish a policy to identify, investigate and report hate crimes. It also encourages agencies to develop a system for collecting data on hate crimes, establish a hate crimes unit, and engage in community relations to address hate crimes.

The bill is named after Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer, whose deaths were not recorded in the FBI hate crimes report.

The NAACP’s Williams, who is pastor of Swope Parkway United Christian Church, agrees better reporting would lead to a better understanding of the problem.

He also takes a spiritual approach to changing the situation.

“If the hearts and consciousness of America does not change, we are not going to see major reform,” Williams said. “We have to start understanding that all humanity are created equal. Those just cannot be words in the Constitution, but those have to be words that are lived out.”

As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.
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