In 2018, Joseph Messina walked outside his house and saw a racial slur spray-painted on his South Philadelphia home. “SNITCHIN A** DIE CRACKER” was what the hate-filled message read. He was 12 years old at the time. It’s the kind of horrifying situation that you never forget. It’s also the kind of situation that has come to dominate hate crimes in Philadelphia. Despite little, if any, media coverage, data show Messina was part of the racial group most victimized by hate crimes in Philadelphia: white people.
Last year, while researching the Messina incident, I contacted the Office of Public Affairs of the Philadelphia Police Department to request statistics about the city’s hate crimes. According to its data, white people were more often the victims of hate crimes than any other racial group each year between 2017 and 2020. Interestingly, the report itself was sloppy. The office even sent a revised report two weeks later, allegedly because of a typo. However, this report contained different totals. Even so, in each version, white people were the most victimized group.
In the first report, from March 31, 2021, the Philadelphia Police Department reported that in 2017, 23 hate crime victims were white, 10 were black, two were Asian, two were Latino, and zero were American Indian/Pacific Islander. In 2018, the breakdown was 23 white, 15 black, one Asian, five Latino, and zero American Indian/Pacific Islander. In 2019, it was 17 white, 13 black, three Asian, zero Latino, and zero American Indian/Pacific Islander. And in 2020, it was 20 white, 16 black, seven Asian, one American Indian/Pacific Islander, and zero Latino.
But on April 14, 2021, the department emailed me a new report with a peculiar change in some information. While for 2017, everything remained the same, in 2018, there was a substantial change in the data that was a statistical aberration. In this version, three victims were white, 11 were black, one was Asian, five were Latino, and zero were American Indian/Pacific Islander. In 2019, the figures changed again. During that year, there were now 14 white hate crime victims, 13 who were black, three Asian, zero Latino, and zero American Indian/Pacific Islander. In 2020, the new data revealed that 14 were white, 11 black, six Asian, one American Indian/Pacific Islander, and zero Latino.
Read More: In Philadelphia, the majority of hate crime victims were white people