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. Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, the federal government and states have collected data on hate crime occurrences as well as developed specific laws against such crimes. There are differences between the federal and state laws as well as differences among the states. Most differences include varied group coverage in the law. Because of these differences and the underreporting of incidents, the true rates remain unknown.
Research in the last few decades has indicated that African Americans are the most likely victims of hate crime in the United States, followed by people of the Jewish faith and individuals of differing sexual orientation or gender identity. Initial typology study has indicated the most common type of hate crime offender commits hate crime because of thrill/excitement, followed by defensive, retaliatory, and mission reasons. Research has also specified that the most common hate crime perpetrator is a young, white male, who is not associated with an organized hate group. Research also shows that brutality is more likely for this crime because of the group perpetration, victims are typically strangers, and the crime is expressive rather than instrumental in nature.
Law enforcement, the overall criminal justice system, and anti-hate organizations have developed programs and tools to help respond to and prevent hate crime. For example, several police agencies have developed hate crime teams, several jurisdictions require treatment for hate crime perpetrators, and both national and regional anti-hate organizations have developed Web sites to provide communities with information and aid in the prevention of these horrific crimes. It is encouraging to know that as hate organizations have developed over the United States’ history, so too have anti-hate groups that work just as hard in prevention.
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