(Adds statement from U.S. Attorney General Garland)
By Jan Wolfe
NEW YORK, Aug 30 (Reuters) - The number of hate crimes in the United States rose last year to the highest level in more than a decade, driven by a rise in assaults targeting Black victims and victims of Asian descent, the FBI reported on Monday.
The 2020 data, submitted to the FBI by more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, identified 7,759 hate-crimes in 2020, a 6% increase over 2019 and the highest tally since 2008.
The FBI data showed the number of offenses targeting Blacks rose to 2,755 from 1,930 and incidents against Asians jumped to 274 from 158.
Of the 7,426 hate crime offenses classified as crimes against people, as opposed to crimes against property, 53.4% were for intimidation, 27.6% were for simple assault and 18.1% were for aggravated assault. Twenty-two murders and 19 rapes were reported as hate crimes.
"Preventing and responding to hate crimes and hate incidents is one of the Justice Department's highest priorities," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "The FBI Hate Crime Statistics for 2020 demonstrates the urgent need for a comprehensive response."
The Justice Department has warned that white supremacist groups represent a rising security threat after the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
At the same time, reports of hate-inspired attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have also been on the rise, spurred by what many say were then-President Donald Trump's inflammatory remarks blaming the COVID-19 pandemic on China.
In May, Garland outlined new steps to help state and local police track and investigate hate crimes, which historically have been an under-reported crime to the FBI by local law enforcement, and called for the department to expedite the review of possible hate crimes.
A hate crimes bill to combat violence against Asian Americans passed the U.S. Senate in April with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The measure designated a Justice Department employee to expedite a review of hate crimes reported to police during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)
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