VIII. Responding to Hate Crime
Crimes motivated by hate and prejudice are nothing new; however, recent hate crime legislation has presented the criminal justice system and society with a unique type of offender.As stated previously, these crimes are distinctive in that they concern both criminal behavior and the motivation behind the behavior. Thus, most agree that the criminal justice system needs to consider both when responding to this type of offender.
A. Police Response to Hate Crime
Many, if not all, subordinate groups within the United States have had a number of hostile and prejudiced encounters with the police that have increased the likelihood that they will hold negative perceptions of law enforcement. Subordinate group members have reported feeling both under-protected and over-policed by law enforcement. The issue of the over-policing of minority groups can be traced back over the course of the past century when minority communities felt that the police used oppressive tactics and operations disproportionately targeted at minorities. Subordinate groups describe under-policing as law enforcement delaying their response to incidents, not doing enough to apprehend the offender, being disinterested and impolite, and making mistakes or handling matters badly. In other words, minority communities increasingly saw themselves as the targets of policing. Because trust and confidence in the police is lost, the minority groups do not turn to the police for assistance when they are subjected to ongoing violence and harassment. In fact, hate crimes in general are significantly underreported.
There are a number of positive activities that the police can undertake to improve their response to hate crimes. While the police cannot directly lessen hate, they can contribute considerably to the establishment of an environment that lessens the chance that hatred will result in interpersonal violence by providing a fair, effective, and open service to all members of their community. If the police can be fair, effective, and open, then it follows that subordinate group members will be more willing to report crimes as well as assist law enforcement efforts. In addition, if police utilize a deliberately broad and inclusive, but specific, definition of hate crime, it would restrict the discretion of individual officers and possibly encourage better recording of hate crimes. Several jurisdictions have responded to the need by requiring hate crime training while police officers are at the law enforcement academy, using specially trained investigators for hate crime, or forming specialist investigative units with officers dedicated to hate crime investigations.
B. Courts’ Response to Hate Crime
As with other types of crime, the courts main response to hate crime is to mete out punishment. However, since hate crimes include both motivation and illegal behavior, rehabilitation is also necessary. The following methods have been utilized or discussed as ways to work with the hate crime offender: the punishment model, the restorative justice model, counseling or education programs, and civil remedies.
Hate crime offenders can be responded to by simply placing them in prison as punishment. However, few believe that prison punishment alone will be enough to increase the offender’s tolerance of others—and may even increase a hate crime offender’s bias, since most prison situations are quite segregated along racial and ethnic lines. In fact, many prisons are rife with hate group recruitment and membership. Most agree that some form of rehabilitation of the hate crime perpetrator in addition to the punishment is warranted.
The restorative justice model emphasizes the restoration of the victim and community as much as possible. One component of restorative justice includes victim–offender mediation. During mediation, the offender and victim come together; the victim has the opportunity to explain how the offense impacted him or her and ask any questions of the offender, and the offender has the opportunity to provide apologies and explanations. This offers the venue for the victim to speak of his or her experience and allows the offender to understand his or her impact on the victim and to obtain a more realistic picture of the victim (which is helpful because much prejudice against the victim is based on stereotypes and myths of that particular subordinate group). The goal is for the people involved to reach an agreeable reconciliation.
Another approach to rehabilitating hate crime offenders is to provide them with some sort of educational or counseling program. Depending on the offender’s unique circumstances, the rehabilitation could involve several aspects such as diversity education, individual or group treatment of prejudice, mentorship of the offender by a member of the victim’s subordinate group, and visiting relevant museums (e.g., the Holocaust Museum). Because a portion of hate crime offenders have a history of violence, it may be important to not only focus treatment on bias but also to provide anger management or interpersonal effectiveness treatment as a part of the offender’s rehabilitation.
Finally, some states offer civil remedies to the victims of hate crime. For example, the state of Illinois offers victims of hate crimes free attorneys that will sue hate crime offenders for physical and emotional damage (in addition to free attorneys for criminal court). Previous victims of hate crimes have been successful at suing both hate crime offenders as well as organized hate groups to which the offender belonged.