Hate crime is defined as an illegal act against a person, institution, or property that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against the victim’s group membership. Although hate crime is a relatively new category of crime, the United States has a long history of biased actions against individuals because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and gender.
II. Hate Crime Laws
VI. Organized Hate Group Members
VII. Hate Crime Victims
VIII. Responding to Hate Crime
The term hate crime became part of the American lexicon in 1985 when it was coined by United States Representatives John Conyers and Mario Biaggi. Although the term hate crime and societal interest in it are relatively recent developments, hate crime has deep historical roots. Throughout U.S. history, a significant proportion of all murders, assaults, and acts of vandalism and desecration have been fueled by hatred. As Native Americans have been described as the first hate crime victims, hate crimes have existed since the United States’ inception. Since then, members of all immigrant groups have been subjected to discrimination, harassment, and violence.
Although there are variations in definition, and certainly variations among state hate crime laws, in general a hate crime is considered to be an illegal act against a person, institution, or property that is motivated (in whole or in part) by the offender’s prejudice against the victim’s group membership status. Although not all jurisdictions, academics, or professionals agree about who should be protected by hate crime laws, the majority of such laws describe the offender’s motivation based on prejudice against the victim’s, race, color, nationality, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status.
While hate crime behavior has a long history, it has only been in the last couple of decades that research to understand this type of crime has been conducted. The purpose of this research paper is to present the hate crime knowledge that has accumulated over these last decades. This research paper will present the history of hate crime law, the scope of the problem, the theory and psychology behind hateful/prejudicial behaviors, characteristics of perpetrators and victims, policing hate crime, and responding to and preventing hate crime.
II. Hate Crime Laws
A. For and Against Hate Crime Legislation
Proponents of hate crime laws feel strongly about society making a statement that biased (or hate) crimes will not be tolerated and that serious penalties will be applied to those who commit such crimes. In addition, these laws are important in order to deter potential hate crime offenders who intentionally target members of subordinate groups. Hate crime laws are also symbolic and promote social cohesion by officially stating that victimization of people who are “different” is not accepted or tolerated in a modern society.
There have also been arguments against the formation of hate crime laws. Not all believe that hate crimes have been a significant problem in society; rather, some see it as a media-exaggerated issue—a product of a society that is highly sensitive to prejudice and discrimination. Thus, a special set of criminal laws that include hate is not warranted, and the generic criminal laws will suffice. Those who oppose hate crime laws also argue that attempting to determine motivation for an already criminal act is difficult and may pose moral problems in that the offender is being punished for a criminal act and for his or her motivation. It has also been argued that hate crime laws do not deter people from engaging in these crimes. Others argue that the disagreement over which subordinate groups to include in the hate crime laws actually causes added discrimination and marginalization. Critics state that what these laws effectively are saying is that one group is more worthy of protection and care than another. Critics also wonder why anger/hate is more punishable than other motives such as greed. Although there has been (and still is) debate about hate crime laws, the mere fact that they exist in several countries around the world, as well as within the United States, indicates that reasoning in favor of these laws has outweighed that against them.
B. Federal and State Hate Crime Laws
Hate crime laws in the United States exist at the federal and state levels. Although federal and state laws differ, most protected characteristics include race, national origin, ethnicity, and religion. Some laws also include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability. The federal hate crime system includes laws, acts, and data collection statutes. The current federal hate crime law permits federal prosecution of crimes committed based upon the victim’s race, color, religion, or nation of origin when the victim is engaging in a federally protected activity (e.g., attending a public school; working at a place of employment). The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2007 (i.e., the Matthew Shepard Act), which is under consideration as of this writing, would extend the existing federal hate crime law to include crimes based upon the victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, and would drop the existing requirement that the victim be involved in a federally protected activity. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 requires that the U.S. Sentencing Commission enhance criminal penalties (up to 30%) for offenders who commit a federal crime that was motivated by the victim’s race, religion, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
There are two federal data collection statutes. The first, the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, requires that the U.S. Attorney General collect data on all crimes that are motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Since 1992, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have jointly published hate crime statistics on an annual basis. The Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act of 1997 requires college and university campus security authorities to collect and report data on crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disability.
The majority of states have some sort of hate crime legislation, but it differs from state to state. For example, some states treat hate crimes as low-severity offenses, while other states have more general hate crime laws or sentence enhancing for crimes that are motivated by bias. In some states, maximum criminal sentences may be doubled, tripled, or increased even more for a hate crime. The states also differ in the subordinate groups that transform a general crime to a hate crime and as to what degree this bias must be shown (e.g., beliefs, character). All state statutes include at least race, religion, and ethnicity, but differ on inclusion of other subordinate groups. For example, about 70% of the states also include gender and sexual orientation, while fewer include disability, political affiliation, or age.