Washington — Crimes motivated by hatred for a person's race, religion or other characteristics remain a tiny percentage of all offenses, the government reported Sunday, based on samples from several states.
Offenses known as "hate crimes" have attracted special scrutiny since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
The suspected hijackers and those in the al-Qaida network believed to have masterminded the deadly attacks are mostly Middle Eastern and Muslim. The government has said the hijackers lived in U.S. communities, sometimes for years, while preparing for the attacks.
Since the attacks, hundreds of Americans of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent or just people with dark skin, beards, turbans or veils that make them appear to fit that profile have been victims of threats, beatings and even killings. Muslim mosques and temples have been vandalized and fire-bombed.
The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics said 2,976 hate crimes were reported by local police departments to the FBI's National Incident-Based Reporting System between 1997 and 1999. That represents only a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the total 5.4 million crimes reported over the three years.
The offenses were categorized as hate crimes when police could determine the victim was targeted based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or national origin.
In its annual hate crimes report earlier this year, the FBI reported nearly three times as many hate crimes or 7,876 in 1999 alone. That's because the FBI's annual report comes from information provided by 12,122 law enforcement agencies in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
The new report used data gathered by the FBI's relatively new National Incident-Based Reporting System, which collects more detail but has far fewer agencies participating and the report is taken from samples of a third of the states. The 1997 data came from 1,878 agencies in 10 states. By 1999, 3,396 law enforcement agencies from 17 states were participating.
The states were Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
The report said separate data the government started collecting last year reinforces the long-held perception that most hate crimes, like other types of crime, go unreported.