Fact check: US did not ‘bury’ data on anti-Asian hate crimes

A recent tweet claiming that the U.S. government has been “burying” the anti-Asian hate crisis is false.

The allegation: In a recent tweet, investor and physician Michael J. Burry alleged that the government is “burying” the “anti-Asian violent hate crime crisis.” As of this writing, the tweet has amassed more than 9,300 likes and nearly 2,000 retweets.

  • Burry’s tweet included screenshots of two tables from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)’ annual Criminal Victimization report. The tables show the percentage of violent incidents by both victim and offender races in the years 2018 and 2019.
  • Burry claimed that beginning in 2019, Asians have been “deleted” from the “inter-racial violent crime” report. He then noted that starting in 2020, “all such data disappears” and called this supposed void a “black hole.”

The facts: Burry’s claim overlooks several details available in the 2020 and 2021 reports, which respectively compiled figures from 2019 and 2020. NextShark breaks them down below, along with exclusive inputs from the BJS.

  • The BJS’s Criminal Victimization report is based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), whose data through 2020 is archived at the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD) and available online. These resources, including information to get started with data analysis, are available to the public.
  • The NCVS data are derived from a sample of persons aged 12 or older in the U.S. Those sample data are then weighted to be representative of the U.S. population aged 12 or older. In their statement to NextShark, the BJS explained that they examine unweighted sample cases to “determine statistical reliability and flag any category that has less than 10 sample cases.” This means the number of violent incidents committed against Asian people shown in the reports are the number of weighted cases.
  • The 2018 data, which was compiled in the 2019 report, explicitly identifies “Asian” as a victim race alongside White, Black and Hispanic groups. Of the four, White victims suffered the most incidents at 3,581,360, followed by Hispanic victims (734,410) and Black (563,940) victims.
  • Asian victims in 2018 suffered the least number of violent incidents at 182,230. This weighted number represents approximately 50 to 60 unweighted cases, according to the BJS. Notes under the table Burry had shared also indicate that Hispanic offenders, “other race” offenders and “multiple offenders of various races” are all flagged as statistically unreliable for Asian victims. This is because these estimates are based on 10 or fewer sample cases.
  • The 2019 data, which was compiled in the 2020 report, does not explicitly identify “Asian” as a victim race in certain tables, including Table 16, which Burry had shared. This is simply because the number of incidents, once again, was under 10 cases, according to the BJS. Still, trends about Asians were included in the same report, such as the decline in their rate of violent victimization from 16.2 per 1,000 in 2018 to 7.5 per 1,000 in 2019. To conclude that Asians were “deleted” based on just one table is an incomplete and misleading assessment. 
  • It is imperative to note that both 2018 and 2019 are not considered years of “anti-Asian violent hate crime crisis.” The surge in anti-Asian “hate incidents” — which must be accurately distinguished from “hate crimes” — began approximately at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. This is largely because Asian Americans — who are told to “Go back to China” in many of such incidents — are blamed for the spread of the then-novel coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China. Stop AAPI Hate, the national coalition tracking anti-Asian hate incidents, also began monitoring in March 2020.
  • The 2020 data, which was compiled in the 2021 report, explicitly identifies “Asian” as a victim race but groups it with “Native Hawaiian” and “Other Pacific Islander.” The BJS explained that the specific breakout was once again absent since the number of incidents was less than 10. The report also notes that the group saw a decline in the rate of violent crimes from 8.5 per 1,000 in 2019 to 7.5 per 1,000 in 2020. Burry’s claim of “disappearing” data in 2020 missed such details.

Additional context: The allegation that the U.S. government is “burying” data on anti-Asian hate crimes suggests that the administration is ignoring the longstanding crisis. But this is simply not the case: President Joe Biden, for starters, signed a memorandum that condemns pandemic-driven anti-Asian hate days after being sworn into office. Then, in May 2021, he signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which cites the increase in anti-Asian incidents as a basis and expedites the investigation of all coronavirus-related hate crimes. These actions, among other legislation pushed in the Congress — such as the study of the creation of the first national Asian American museum, which Biden also signed later — demonstrate the government’s acknowledgment that the rise in anti-Asian attacks is real, systemic and in need of concrete solutions.

  • Even former President Donald Trump, who is blamed by many for the spike in anti-Asian incidents due to his anti-China rhetoric, called for the protection of Asian Americans after hearing “a little bit of nasty language” toward the group early on in the pandemic. In a now-defunct tweet, he wrote that COVID-19 “is NOT their fault in any way, shape or form” and encouraged the public with a message that “WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER.”
  • NextShark has also reported on local government measures designed to support the Asian American community against hate, from funding to policing. One of them is the inclusion of Asian American history in the public school curriculum, which has gained momentum in several states amid the pandemic.
  • The NCVS data, as per the BJS, is obtained from a nationally representative sample of about 150,000 household interviews, which are composed of some 240,000 interviews of persons. How the 2020 data consisted of less than 10 incident cases as a sample size for Asians is certainly a shocking observation, but this is where the community as a whole must address a longstanding problem that has compounded difficulties in holding perpetrators to justice: underreporting.
  • Stop AAPI Hate recorded a total of 3,795 anti-Asian incidents between March 19, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021 in its 2020-21 national report, dwarfing the BJS’ estimates roughly in the same period. The organization’s latest tally, which included cases up until March 31, 2022, showed a sum of 11,467 incidents, indicating that more people began reporting their experiences by 2021.
  • In its 2020-21 national report, Stop AAPI Hate acknowledged that the “number of hate incidents reported to our center represent only a fraction of the number of hate incidents that actually occur.” Experts attribute this problem of underreporting to a variety of factors, including language barriers, social stigma and lack of trust in the justice system.
  • In April 2021, AAPI Data, which publishes demographic data and policy research on Asian Americans, estimated that up to 2 million adults had actually experienced discrimination, harassment or a hate crime since the onset of COVID-19. “What is missing from reported incidents, therefore, are the majority of cases that comprise the mass beneath the tip of the iceberg that go unreported, unseen and unheard,” it said in a blog post.

Final assessment: Burry’s allegation that the U.S. government is “burying the anti-Asian violent hate crime crisis” based on just two tables is false and misleading. It ignores (1) statistical methodology, (2) government legislation, and (3) the problem of underreporting within the community. It must also be stressed that 2019 was not an “anti-Asian hate crimes year,” since it was pre-COVID. Finally, while the 2020 data included Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders as a single group, NextShark finds Burry’s “black hole” comparison to be an exaggeration.

  • The BJS told NextShark that it continues to collect data on crimes against Asians and disaggregates racial data when possible. “We do understand that readers are interested in victimization statistics separated by the different racial categories and we try to disaggregate these categories where possible, keeping in mind statistical reliability,” the agency said.

Featured Image via @michaeljburry

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