An American Pogrom–Part II

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists march in Charlottesville, 2017

As I wrote in Part I, what struck me about the cruelty that Black people experience in America, from slavery times to today’s police murders, is its resemblance to the pogroms my forebears fled.

The Immigrants

My parents and grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe to the United States hoping for both safety and prosperity in the goldene medina, the land where the streets were supposedly paved with gold. They did encounter anti-Semitism in this country—my aunt Helen changed her name to a Polish one so she could get a job, and my accountant cousin Fred moved to California because Wall Street wouldn’t hire Jews—but they weren’t afraid for their lives. After suffering through the Great Depression, Jews prospered along with the rest of the white working class during the post-World War II boom times.

In recent years, though, anti-Semitism in America—including violent attacks and mass shootings—has spiked. According to Voice of America, “In New York City, home to the largest Jewish population in the U.S., nearly half of all reported hate crimes involved Jewish victims, with the total number of anti-Semitic criminal incidents jumping 31% to a record high of 271.”

However, in comparing anti-Semitism with the anti-Black racism in America, it is most important to remember that Jews do not experience police violence as a result of their ethnicity. Jewish parents don’t have “the talk” with their children, a discussion nowadays focused, in Black families, on how to stay safe while interacting with law enforcement. Most of the Jews I’ve known, except those of us who were gay, have regarded the police as an agency they could call upon for protection, and not as an instrument of persecution.

The Captives

My friend Carolyn’s forebears did not come by choice. For 246 years, from the arrival of the first African captives in 1619 to the end of the Civil War in 1865, the overwhelming majority of her people were enslaved. (A few were granted or managed to purchase their freedom, or escaped.) I find it almost unbearable to read about the cruelties inflicted on those held in chattel slavery—whippings, rapes, murder, sales of babies away from their mothers’ breasts—but if certain politicians have their way, books telling the truth about those cruelties will be banned from schools and libraries.

In 1862, during the Civil War, in an attempt to end slavery, Lincoln offered the owners in Southern states a monetary compensation for their “property,” but all the states refused. Eventually, he signed a law giving them an average of $300 per released individual—the equivalent of $8,886 today. This only applied to the District of Columbia, since Congress defeated the bill that would have applied it to the other states. The money came from the government, which means from the taxpayer. Essentially it was ransom paid to those who had benefited from the exploitation of slave labor, while giving nothing to the victims.

After the Civil War we had a brief period of Reconstruction, an attempt to give equal rights to the newly freed men. (Not to the women of course, no matter what their race. We still don’t have the Equal Rights Amendment.) And then, starting in 1877, came the Ku Klux Klan, lynching, legal and de facto segregation, the chain gangs and convict leasing, election poll taxes and “literacy tests,” redlining in real estate, laws penalizing crack cocaine (used primarily by Black people) 100 times more severely than for powder cocaine (used predominantly by whites), stop and frisk of mostly young men of color, mass incarceration…and murder by cop.

The Numbers

A 1990 law authorized the FBI to collect hate crime statistics. I spent some hours perusing that agency’s reports, from 1996 to 2021, and preparing the chart at the end of this post. (The numbers from 2022 aren’t available yet.) Alas, their statistics are dubious. First, they are based on information from local law enforcement, and thousands of those agencies don’t even participate in the program. Of those that do participate, 88% said, incredibly, that they had no hate crimes in their jurisdiction. And about half the victims of hate crimes—like victims of rape—never report to the authorities.

Of course, law enforcement agencies do not consider any beatings and murders by police to be hate crimes.

Moreover, the Department of Justice said that the overall number of agencies reporting in 2021 decreased from 15,138 previously to 11,834 currently, “so data cannot reliably be compared across years.”   And, per the Voice of America News (itself a government-owned entity), for 2021 the FBI report excluded data for New York City, Chicago and most of California.

Still, pathetic as they may be, the FBI statistics do show some trends. Black people are only about 13.6% of the United States population, yet around two-thirds of reported hate crimes were racially motivated, and around two-thirds of those were directed against Black people. Jews are an even smaller demographic, about 2.4% of the population, but about a sixth of reported hate crimes were motivated by perceived religious affiliation, and around two-thirds of those were directed against Jews. This has been consistent over the decades.


As I observed in Part I, when we combine the level of reported hate crimes against Black people with police violence against them, we have what I can only understand as an ongoing pogrom.

Nevertheless, despite the persistence of virulent racism—and anti-Semitism—in America, there has been some progress. In my lifetime I saw the end of legal segregation. In 1990, my junior high school ceased being called after slave owner John Marshall, and was renamed after a Black educator, Mary McLeod Bethune. All over the country, statues of Confederate generals are coming down.

Name changes and public monuments are, of course, only symbols, just a part of the public discourse—but that discourse shapes attitudes. It was no accident that when Trump kept referring to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus,” hate crimes against Asian-Americans increased by 150%.

I still have hope. I want to live long enough to see the realization of the Dream.

*          *          *

Below is a chart I created, based on the FBI’s annual reports.

FBI Hate crime statistics:

Total hate crime                  Total racially                                        Total religiously
Year       Incidents                               motivated             % anti-Black        motivated             % anti-Jewish
2021       7,262                                      4,706                      63.2                        1,005                      31.9*
2020       8,263                                      5,227                      54.9                        1,244                      54.9
2019       7,314                                      4,930                      48.5                        1,715                      60.2
2018       7,120                                      5,155                      47.1                        1,617                      56.9
2017       7,171                                      6,050                      48.6                        1,749                      58.1
2016       6,121                                      4,426                      50.2                        1,584                      54.4
2015       5,850                                      4,216                      52.2                        1,402                      52.1
2014       5,479                                      3,227                      62.7                        1,140                      56.8
2013       5,928                                      3,563                      66.5                        1,223                      60.3
2012       5,796                                      3,467                      66.2                        1,340                      62.4
2011       6,222                                      3,645                      71.9                        1,480                      63.2
2010       6,628                                      3,949                      70.0                        1,552                      67.0
2009       6,604                                      4,057                      71.5                        1,575                      71.9
2008       7,783                                      4,934                      72.9                        1,732                      66.1
2007       7,624                                      4,956                      69.3                        1,628                      69.2
2006       7,722                                      5,020                      66.4                        1,750                      65.4
2005       7,163                                      4,895                      67.9                        1,405                      69.5
2004       7,649                                      4,863                      67.5                        1,480                      67.8
2003       7,489                                      3,844                      66.3                        1,343                      69.0
2002       7,462                                      3,642                      68.3                        1,426                      65.3
2001       9,730                                      4,367                      66.4                        1,828                      57.1
2000       8,063                                      4,337                      66.5                        1,472                      75.3
1999       7,876                                      4,295                      68.9                        1,411                      78.6
1998       7,755                                      4,321                      67.1                        1,390                      77.8
1997       8,049                                      4,710                      66.2                        1,385                      78.5
1996       8,759                                      5,398                      68.1                        1,401                      79.2

*As noted above, 2021 was the year the FBI excluded data from New York, Chicago, and most of California, all of which have high percentages of Jews.


One Response to An American Pogrom–Part II

  1. Miriam Beinin March 6, 2023 at 10:26 am #

    Thank you for this very comprehensive and personal essay.

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