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Was Jewish Center Shooting a Hate Crime?

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on April 14, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The suspect of Jewish center shooting in Kansas has been charged with premeditated murder, but some groups believe that the killings were hate crimes.

Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, is accused of going on a shooting spree at a Jewish community center and nearby Jewish retirement home in Overland Park, Kansas. A 14-year-old boy, his grandfather, and an unrelated woman were killed, according to Reuters.

Cross allegedly has a long history of racism and anti-Semitism, but police say it's too early to determine if the killings were motivated by those factors.

Federal Hate Crime Statute

In general, hate crimes are crimes that are carried out with the intention to hurt or intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability.

Under the federal hate crime statute, anyone who willfully causes bodily injury to any person or attempts to injure any person through the use of fire, firearm, dangerous weapon, or explosive device because of that person's race, color, religion, or national origin can be guilty of a hate crime. This statute also applies to people acting under "color of law" -- like police officers and judges.

If convicted of causing hate-motivated bodily injury, a person can face up to 10 years in prison. But for those, like Cross, who are accused of killing a person, he or she may face life in prison.

Kansas Hate Crime

Kansas's hate crime law serves to enhance a normal sentence for those found guilty of criminal acts. Under the Kansas law, offenses motivated entirely or in part by race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation of the victim establish aggravating sentencing factors. For example, if a committing battery alone would get someone two years in prison, then extra time may be added to that prison sentence if the attack was motivated by race.

The Kansas statute applies even if the criminal's belief or perception was incorrect. This means that if a defendant attacked a victim believed to be gay, but it later turns out that the victim was straight, the attacker's actions would still be considered a hate crime.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-hate group, told Reuters that Cross was a "raging anti-Semite" who posted anti-Jewish rantings online and idolized Adolf Hitler.

The shooting occurred on the eve of the Jewish holiday, Passover.

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