South Carolina Church Shooting and Hate Crime in the United States
Lisa N. Sacco, Analyst in Illicit Drugs and Crime Policy (email@example.com, 7-7359)
Kristin Finklea, Specialist in Domestic Security (firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-6259)
June 18, 2015 (IN10297)
Incident in South Carolina
On June 17, 2015, a lone gunman shot and killed nine individuals in a predominantly black church in Charleston,
South Carolina. The suspect in police custody, Dylann Roof, is white, while the nine deceased victims are black.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced it is initiating a hate crime investigation.
Hate Crime in the United States
As part of its Hate Crime Statistics Program, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collects data on "criminal
offenses that were motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, gender, gender identity,
religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and were committed against persons, property, or society." In
2013, law enforcement agencies reported to the FBI that 3,407 "single-bias hate crime offenses were racially
motivated." Of these incidents, 66.4% were motivated by anti-black or anti-African American bias (see Table 1).
Table 1. Hate Crimes in the United States
(by race motivation, 2013)
Hate Crimes: Bias Motivation
Total Hate Crimes
Single-Bias Incidents Motivated by Race
Single-Bias Incidents Motivated by Race
Motivated by Anti-Black or African
Motivated by Anti-White
Motivated by Anti-Other Raceb
Motivated by Anti-Multiple Races, Group
Number of Offenses
Source: Table created by Congressional Research Service using data from FBI, 2013 Hate
Crime Statistics, Table 5, https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/hate-crime/2013/topicpages/incidents-and-offenses/incidentsandoffenses_final.
Notes: For more information on FBI, UCR data see https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/hatecrime/2013/resource-pages/about-ucr/aboutucr_final.
a. This category excludes "multiple-bias incidents" in which (1) more than one offense type must
occur in the incident and (2) at least two offense types must be motivated by different biases.
b. "Other Race" includes Asian (158), American Indian or Alaska Native (146), and Native
Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (3).
Federal Response to Hate Crime
Current federal law defines hate crimes to include any crime against either person or property, in which the
offender intentionally selects the victim because of the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national
origin, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation. Congress most recently amended the definition of
hate crimes through the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Division E of P.L.
111-84, to cover gender identity. Although hate crimes may fall under the categories of both violent and property
crimes, policymakers tend to focus more attention on those hate crimes that may be classified as violent crimes.
The term hate crime was first coined in the 1980s. During this time, states began to establish hate crime statutes;
these state laws vary in regard to the crimes included, penalties imposed, and groups protected. The
conceptualization of hate crimes has evolved since the 1980s, and researchers have noted that one of the
challenges in defining a hate crime is distinguishing it from other bias-motivated crimes, such as domestic
terrorism, or even from constitutionally protected expression. The Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 (P.L. 101275) was the first major federal law to define and require data collection on hate crimes.
At the federal level, hate crimes are generally investigated and prosecuted along with other bias-motivated crimes,
as civil rights violations, and the FBI is the primary federal agency responsible for investigating these incidents.
Federal agents may also work with and support state and local law enforcement in their investigation of hate
crimes. In addition to the federal role in investigating hate crimes, federal grants may be used by state and local
entities to address these crimes.