Hate crimes have been on my mind lately as the Israel-Hamas conflict and resulting siege on Gaza have sparked fears and anxieties across the U.S. — where hate crimes against Muslims spiked post-9/11 and during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Data compiled by the FBI shows that the number of hate crimes police reported rose in 2022, with attacks against Black people comprising nearly a third of all cases. Crimes against Jewish and transgender people also saw significant increases, with anti-Jewish incidents being the second most common.

It takes months to collect data from police departments, so it will be awhile before federal officials can confirm what some criminologists suspect to be true: hate-based attacks appear to have increased in recent months.

Earlier this week, police in Illinois began investigating an incident of vandalism at a kosher pizzeria after an employee noticed a swastika tagged on the storefront’s window. (Police later said the vandalism was considered gang-related graffiti.) And over Thanksgiving weekend, three university students of Palestinian descent were shot while walking to a gathering in Vermont.

Days earlier, a man on a New York City subway train was caught on video calling a Muslim woman carrying a Palestinian flag a “terrorist” and hitting her. He faces several hate crime-related charges.

In the flurry of news, some crimes that initially seem to be motivated by ethnic or religious hate turn out to be unrelated.

In October, a synagogue leader was fatally stabbed outside of her home in Detroit. The Detroit Police chief has repeatedly said her murder was not motivated by antisemitism, and cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

A hate crime — which might seem self-explanatory at face value — is a bit of a misnomer.

Phyllis Gerstenfeld, a professor at California State University Stanislaus, told The 19th in 2021 that “the offender doesn’t need to actually hate the victim. They just need to select them based on a group affiliation — and only certain groups are protected depending on the state.”

There are also jurisdictional differences about what is and is not considered a hate crime in the U.S. While federal hate crimes include violent and property crimes against people in protected classes — such as race or religion — the type of offenses that are considered hate crimes vary by state, as do the severity of the consequences for people convicted. Some states and localities, like California and Washington, D.C., have robust and detailed protections, while other states leave entire groups out.

Prosecutors in Vermont noted this week that they can’t bring a hate crime charge unless they believe it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That presents a challenge in cases like the shooting of the university students. While two students were wearing keffiyehs and all three were speaking English and Arabic when they were shot, the alleged assailant fired without saying a word.

Read the full article about hate crimes by Lakeidra Chavis at Marshall Project.