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Hate Crime: The Violence of Intolerance

A hate crime is a crime motivated by bias or prejudice. Hate crimes usually involve violence. The bias motivation for hate crimes can be:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Gender or gender identity (including transgender people)

hate crime is also known as a bias crime. Hate crimes often involve bodily injury. Perpetrators of hate crimes use explosives, arson, weapons, vandalism, physical violence, and verbal threats to instill fear in their victims. This leaves victims vulnerable to more attacks and feelings of anxiety, alienation, helplessness, and suspiciousness.

Communities become frustrated and angry if they believe the local government and criminal justice system in the community will not protect them. This is a reason that hate crimes are often unreported to law enforcement. When perpetrators of hate don't get prosecuted as criminals, their crimes can weaken communities. This is also why hate crime task forces are so important.

Of all crimes, hate crimes are most likely to create or exacerbate tensions. This can trigger more significant community-wide racial conflict, civil disturbances, and even riots. The immediate costs of racial conflicts and civil disturbances are:

  • Police, fire, and medical personnel overtime
  • Injury or death
  • Business and residential property damage or loss
  • Damage to vehicles and equipment

A decline in property values can hinder long-term recovery. These declines result in lower tax revenues, scarcity of funds for rebuilding, and increased insurance rates.

This article discusses victims of hate crimes, perpetrators of hate crimes, reporting of hate crimes, and hate crime laws.

Victims of Hate Crime

The Bureau of Justice Statistics keeps data on hate-motivated crimes. In its "Hate Crime Victimization, 2005-2019 summary," the Bureau noted that:

  • Nearly 90% of all reported hate crimes were violent crimes
  • About 59% of violent hate crimes were motivated by bias against the victim's race, ethnicity, or national origin
  • Gender bias accounted for 24% of hate crimes
  • About 20% of victims believed their attackers targeted them due to their sexual orientation
  • Only about one-tenth of hate crimes were thought to be motivated by disability discrimination or religion

This hate crime data collection makes clear that bigotry remains a societal challenge.

Perpetrators of Hate Crime

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also tracks hate crime statistics and bias incidents. In its "Hate Crime Statistics 2021" report, of the 6,545 known offenders:

  • 55.8% were white
  • 21.1% were Black or African-American
  • 13.9% were unknown
  • 6.4% were multiple races
  • 1.0% were Asian American
  • 0.9% were American Indian or Alaska Native
  • 0.7% were Native Hawaiian

Some people commit hate crimes with their peers as a "thrill" or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Others are reacting against a perceived threat or to preserve their "turf." Still, others are motivated by resentment over the growing economic power of a particular racial or ethnic group.

Reporting a Hate Crime

You can report a possible hate crime for yourself or on behalf of others if you have enough first-hand information about the incident. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Justice enforces hate crime laws. The attorney general is often authorized to begin an action at the state level. People can report hate crimes to:

  • The FBI, either online or by telephone or mail (Local FBI field office)
  • Local police departments or other local law enforcement agencies
  • Individual police officers or law enforcement officers

The information provided should include:

  • Names of the victim(s), any witnesses, and the perpetrators (if known)
  • A description of the events
  • Whether any physical injuries or physical damage happened

Agencies prefer complaints in writing. There may be circumstances when a telephone complaint for a hate crime incident is appropriate, especially if there is an immediate danger. Agencies will investigate the complaints and possibly send them to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Hate Crime Laws

The federal government's enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 set the framework for prosecuting hate crimes. Now, there are many federal and state laws on hate crimes.

As one example, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a federal hate crime law. It allows federal criminal prosecution of hate crimes based on the victim's gender identity or sexual orientation. Lawmakers named the act for two victims of hate crimes. It affords protections to the LGBTQ+ community.

State hate crime laws vary. Laws in New York, Massachusetts, or the District of Columbia may differ from laws in Wisconsin, for example. Laws are often the result of efforts by human rights advocacy groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.

There are often penalty enhancements for criminal offenses motivated by hate. Hate crimes can be misdemeanor offenses or felony offenses.

Talk to an Attorney Today

Hate crimes epitomize some of the most vicious and dangerous offenses committed. Still, these criminal acts often go unreported. Have you been a victim of a hate crime? Talk to an experienced civil rights attorney to address any civil rights violations arising from such crimes. An attorney can help determine which state hate crime laws, federal laws, and hate crime statutes can offer protection.

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