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Fewer hate crimes in 2008, Obama's election year, data show

Reported hate crimes dropped 2 percent in 2008 from 2007 levels. Is rising 'atmosphere of rage' a threat to gains?

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Reported incidents of hate-related violence and vandalism declined in America in 2008 from the year before – a period that included both the election of Barack Obama as president and a burst of threats and hate-mongering as Election Day neared.

Statistics show a 2 percent drop in reported hate crimes from 2007 levels, according to law-enforcement data from 15 states compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

The slight improvement – reports of hate crimes went from 5,011 in 2007 to 4,911 in 2008 – may seem a bit of a surprise at a time when the national discourse has included news about gun-buying sprees after Mr. Obama's election, militias and hate groups on the rise, and a "toxic atmosphere of rage in America," as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) puts it in a new report.

"People are unhappy; it's the downfall of civilization. I get it," says Valerie Jenness, a criminologist at the University of California at Irvine and author of "Hate Crimes: New Social Movements & the Politics of Violence." "But I don't think there's a lot of empirical evidence that we have a massive insurgence [of violence] going on. The level of discourse, after all, is different than the level of mobilizing and actual behavior."

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