Hate crimes (also known as bias-motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation.
"Hate crime" generally refers to criminal acts which are seen to have been motivated by hatred of one or more of the listed conditions. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters (hate mail).
Concern about hate crimes has become increasingly prominent among policymakers in many nations and at all levels of government in recent years, but the phenomenon is not new. Examples from the past include Roman persecution of Christians, the Ottoman genocide of Armenians, and the Nazi "final solution" for the Jews, and more recently, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina and genocide in Rwanda. Hate crimes have shaped and sometimes defined world history.
In the United States, racial and religious biases have inspired most hate crimes. As Europeans began to colonize the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries, Native Americans increasingly became the targets of bias-motivated intimidation and violence. During the past two centuries, some of the more typical examples of hate crimes in the U.S. include lynchings of African Americans, cross burnings to drive black families from predominantly white neighborhoods, assaults on white people travelling predominantly black neighborhoods, assaults on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the painting of swastikas on Jewish synagogues and xenophobic responses to a variety of minority ethnic groups, as well as attacks against European Americans, such as the murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom and the Wichita Massacre.
Hate crime victims
In the United States, anti-black bias is the most frequently reported hate crime motivation. (African-Americans constitute the second-largest minority group; Hispanics being the largest). Of the nearly 8,000 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 1995, almost 3,000 of them were motivated by bias against blacks. Other frequently reported bias motivations are anti-white, Jewish, Gay, Muslim, Asian, Native American, and Hispanic sentiments.
From a psychological standpoint, hate crimes may have extreme consequences. A manual issued by the Attorney-General of the Province of Ontario in Canada lists the following consequences:
- effects on people – psychological and affective disturbances; repercussion on the victim's identity and self-esteem; both reinforced by the degree of violence of a hate crime, usually stronger than that of a common one.
- effect on the targeted group – generalized terror in the group to which the victim belongs, inspiring feelings of vulnerability over the other members, who could be the next victims.
- effect on other vulnerable groups – ominous effects over minoritarian groups or over groups that identify themselves with the targeted one, especially when the referred hate is based on an ideology or doctrine that preaches simultaneously against several groups. Hate Crime is reported to the FBI
Hate crime laws
Hate crime laws generally fall into one of several categories: (1) laws defining specific bias-motivated acts as distinct crimes; (2) criminal penalty-enhancement laws; (3) laws creating a distinct civil cause of action for hate crimes; and (4) laws requiring administrative agencies to collect hate crime statistics. Sometimes (as in Bosnia and Herzegovina), the laws focus on war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity with the prohibition against discriminatory action limited to public officials.
Support and opposition
Support for hate crime laws
Justifications for harsher punishments for hate crimes focus on the notion that hate crimes cause greater individual and societal harm. It is said that, when the core of a person’s identity is attacked, the degradation and dehumanization is especially severe, and additional emotional and physiological problems are likely to result. Society then, in turn, can suffer from the disempowerment of a group of people. Furthermore, it is asserted that the chances for retaliatory crimes are greater when a hate crime has been committed. The riots in Los Angeles, California that followed the beating of Rodney King, a Black motorist, by a group of White police officers are cited as support for this argument. The beating of white truck driver Reginald Denny by black rioters during the same riot is also an example that would support this argument.
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that penalty-enhancement hate crime statutes do not conflict with free speech rights because they do not punish an individual for exercising freedom of expression; rather, they allow courts to consider motive when sentencing a criminal for conduct which is not protected by the First Amendment. (However, freedom of religion and expression of one's beliefs are; see below.)
When it enacted the Hate Crimes Act of 2000, the New York State Legislature found that:
Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of all citizens. They inflict on victims incalculable physical and emotional damage and tear at the very fabric of free society. Crimes motivated by invidious hatred toward particular groups not only harm individual victims but send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all members of the group to which the victim belongs. Hate crimes can and do intimidate and disrupt entire communities and vitiate the civility that is essential to healthy democratic processes. In a democratic society, citizens cannot be required to approve of the beliefs and practices of others, but must never commit criminal acts on account of them. Current law does not adequately recognize the harm to public order and individual safety that hate crimes cause. Therefore, our laws must be strengthened to provide clear recognition of the gravity of hate crimes and the compelling importance of preventing their recurrence. Accordingly, the legislature finds and declares that hate crimes should be prosecuted and punished with appropriate severity."
Opposition to hate crime laws
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found the St. Paul Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance amounted to viewpoint based discrimination in conflict with rights of free speech because it selectively criminalized bias-motivated speech or symbolic speech for disfavored topics while permitting such speech for other topics. Many critics further assert that it conflicts with an even more fundamental right: free thought. The claim is that hate-crime legislation effectively makes certain ideas or beliefs, including religious ones, illegal, in other words, thought crimes.
In their book Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics, James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter criticize hate crime legislation for exacerbating conflicts between groups. They assert that by defining crimes as being committed by one group against another, rather than as being committed by individuals against their society, the labeling of crimes as “hate crimes” causes groups to feel persecuted by one another, and that this impression of persecution can incite a backlash and thus lead to an actual increase in crime. Some have argued hate crime laws bring the law into disrepute and further divide society, as groups apply to have their critics silenced. Some have argued that if it is true that all violent crimes are the result of the perpetrator's contempt for the victim, then all crimes are hate crimes. Thus, if there is no alternate rationale for prosecuting some people more harshly for the same crime based on who the victim is, then different defendants are treated unequally under the law, which violates the United States Constitution.
- Stotzer, R.: Comparison of Hate Crime Rates Across Protected and Unprotected Groups, Williams Institute, 2007–06. Retrieved on 2007-08-09.
- Hate crime, Home Office
- A Policymaker's Guide to Hate Crimes
- Table 1 - Hate Crime Statistics 2005
- FBI - Uniform Crime Reports - Hate Crime Statistics 1995
- MANUEL DES POLITIQUES DE LA COURONNE (PDF) (French) (21 mars 2005). Retrieved on 2009-06-21.
- Microsoft Word - Everyday Fears FINAL for web.doc
- Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 476 (1993).
- Hate Crimes Act - Ch 107, 2000
- R. A. V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (1992).
- The Essayist (1998). Hate Crime Premise. 24 Jul. 1998.
- Evenson, Brad (2003). Looking for thoughtcrime to crimestop. National Post. February 8, 2003.
- Schwartz, L., I.T. Ulit, & D. Morgan (2006). Straight talk about hate crimes bills: Anti-gay, anti-transgender bias stall federal hate crimes legislation. Georgetown Journal of Gender & the Law 7(2): 171–186.
- Icke, David (2003). Tales from the Time Loop. Bridge of Love. ISBN 0953881040. 
- Smith, Peter J. (2007). Democrats refuse religious freedom amendment to hate crimes bill. LifeSite, 26 April 2007.
- Kamine, Wendy. The Return of the Thought Police: "Hate crime" legislation is an assault on civil liberties. The Wall Street Journal. October 28, 2007.
- Wolski, Chris (1999). Hate Crime Laws Will Spawn Thought Police. Capitalism Magazine Website. Retrieved 2009-06-18.
- Jacobs, James B. & Kimberly Potter. (1998). Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 130-144
- AEI - Short Publications
- Constitutional Challenges to Hate Crimes Statutes
- Hate crimes information, by Dr. Gregory Herek
- Hate Crime Survey, annual Human Rights First report on the prevalence of hate crimes in the OSCE region.
- Hate Crime Statistics, annual FBI/U.S. Department of Justice report on the prevalence of hate crimes in the United States. Required by the Hate Crime Statistics Act.
- A Policymaker's Guide to Hate Crimes, a publication by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, part of the U.S. Department of Justice. Many parts of this article have been adapted from this document.
- Tolerance.org, a web project sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center
- Peabody, Michael "Thought & Crime," Liberty Magazine, March/April 2008, review of recently proposed hate crime legislation and criminal intent issues.
- , a video focusing on the hate crimes incited by KABC 790 AM shock jock Doug McIntyre against a Los Angeles charter school, Academia Semillas del Pueblo, in 2006.
- "Hate Crime." Oxford Bibliographies Online: Criminology.
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