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Reporting Hate Crimes and Violent Attacks

Person with a hood, recording video / taking a photo of a crowd of people.
By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on

Hate crimes and violent attacks against Asian Americans have been on the rise since anti-Asian rhetoric grew around coronavirus. If you witness a hate crime, follow these steps to report it – and keep yourself safe in the process.

The most helpful step you can take is reporting a hate crime and any evidence by:

What Should I Do If I Witness a Hate Crime?

Legally you do not have to do anything unless you are required by law to protect the person (often teachers, coaches, or parents). You can remove yourself from the situation or get to safety. Stepping in to stop a violent hate crime is a personal choice, and you could get hurt.

If you stop the hate crime or provide medical care or aid, you are likely protected under your state's good Samaritan law.

Good Samaritan Law 101

"Good Samaritan" laws vary by state but generally protect people who:

  • Volunteer aid to an injured person
  • Step in during emergency situations
  • Act as a safeguard to others
  • Provide any help in a life-or-death situation

Under good Samaritan laws, you are exempt from a lawsuit or any personal liability for the help you provided.

The help needs to be in good faith and to the best of your ability. You are not protected from "stepping in" to sabotage the situation.

When police or medical care arrives, it is illegal to obstruct them from performing their duties unless you are asked to continue what you are doing.

Recording Hate Crimes on Your Phone

It is legal to record violent attacks on public streets or in public areas. States have different recording laws for private property, however, so filming a crime in a private store or building could be against the law.

Recording an attack could also bring you to the attackers' attention, so remember that doing so is a personal choice.

Getting Video Footage of Hate Crimes

Many recent hate crimes have been caught on security cameras by local businesses. Some family members have been sharing footage of their loved one's attack and offering rewards for information. You can ask for footage of the attack – but it is up to the business if they comply.

Call the Police and Share Evidence or Witness Statements

It is a good idea to notify the police of what happened and where the attack took place. Provide witness testimony if you are able.

If you tell the police you have evidence of a crime, they can legally seize your phone and hold it as evidence. However, in most cases, law enforcement prefers to have the footage voluntarily emailed or texted to them at the scene. This helps avoid questions about how the evidence gets from the police to the courts (called "chain of custody"). But you should know that speaking up about a recording could mean your phone is seized.

Policies regarding evidence in a citizen's phone are up to individual cities or counties, so check your local law if you have questions.

Notify the FBI of the Crime

The police generally have to file a report about a crime. Police do not have to take other steps to find the attacker or patrol the community where the crime took place.

The FBI is the lead investigative agency for hate crimes. Under the Hate Crime Statistics Act, the attorney general must collect data about the crime and pass the information to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

The FBI will conduct investigations, ask for law enforcement or public support, and make a decision on prosecuting the assailant if the local legal system does not.

Posting on Social Media

There is a wave of hate crime videos spreading across social media. This helps bring awareness to the crime and identify the attacker. It is not illegal to share a video of a crime, though some privacy issues may apply. Sharing pro-hate crime content or hate speech is a criminal offense.

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