In 2021, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program collected data on 8,673 hate crimes in the U.S. Unfortunately, that number is far below the actual number of hate crimes committed in that year.
Due to new reporting requirements, many of the largest law enforcement agencies and some states did not submit their hate crime statistics. Even greater than that, it is estimated the majority of hate crimes do not get reported to any authorities due to fear of reprisal, distrust in law enforcement, or simply because people don’t believe that reporting the crime will affect any real change.
In this article, we’ll examine what constitutes a hate crime (and what doesn’t), how it differs from other crimes, and what individuals and identity groups can do to combat hate crime in their communities.
What is a Hate Crime?
According to U.S. law, a hate crime is any crime motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Essentially, they’re crimes committed against someone or something because the person committing the crime doesn’t like them for who they are.
Hate crimes are not only illegal but also have a significant impact on the victim and the community. They cause fear, anxiety, and trauma, and can also contribute to social division and hostility.
In the U.S., hate crimes are typically prosecuted under state law, but there are also federal laws that address hate crimes. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law in 2009, expanded the definition of hate crimes and provided additional tools for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute these crimes.
It’s important to note that not all crimes committed against someone who belongs to a certain group are hate crimes. To be considered a hate crime, the perpetrator must have been motivated by bias or prejudice against the victim’s identity.
Types of hate crimes
Hate crimes can take many forms, but they are typically divided into two categories: crimes against people and crimes against property.
Crimes against people
Assault is a common type of hate crime. It involves intentionally causing physical harm or injury to someone because of their actual or perceived identity. Hate-motivated assaults can range from minor incidents, such as pushing or shoving, to more serious offenses, such as beatings or stabbings. These crimes are often committed with the intent to intimidate, threaten, or harm someone because of their race, religion, or other identity.
Hate-motivated murder is one of the most serious types of hate crimes. It involves intentionally killing someone because of their identity. Hate-motivated murders have been committed against individuals and groups based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, among other factors. These crimes can be particularly devastating for victims’ families and communities, and they often have far-reaching consequences.
Hate-motivated rape is a particularly heinous type of hate crime. It involves forcing someone to engage in sexual activity against their will because of their identity. Hate-motivated rape can be committed against individuals or groups, and it can have long-lasting physical and psychological effects on the victim.
Crimes against property
Hate-motivated vandalism involves damaging or defacing property because of the owner’s identity. This can include spray painting racial slurs on a building, breaking windows of a religious institution, or damaging property belonging to an individual or group because of their identity.
Hate-motivated arson involves intentionally setting fire to a building or property because of the owner’s identity. This type of hate crime can be particularly dangerous, as it can cause significant property damage and can also put people’s lives at risk.
Hate-motivated burglary involves breaking into someone’s property with the intent to steal or damage their belongings because of their identity. This type of hate crime can cause significant financial and emotional damage to the victim.
It’s important to note that these are not the only types of hate crimes that exist. Hate crimes can take many different forms, and they can be motivated by a wide range of biases and prejudices. Any crime committed with a bias or prejudice motive is a hate crime, regardless of the specific type of offense.
How are hate crimes different from regular crimes?
Hate crimes are different from regular crimes in four key ways:
1. Motivation and intent
One of the main differences between hate crimes and regular crimes is the motivation behind the offense. Hate crimes are motivated by prejudice and bias against a specific group of people and are therefore committed with the intent to harm someone because of their identity.
Hate crimes can be committed by individuals, groups, or organizations, and they can be fueled by ideologies such as white supremacy, anti-Semitism, or homophobia. The perpetrator may hold biased beliefs or prejudices against the victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or other identity factors.
The perpetrator also often believes that the victim or identity group is somehow inferior to their own, or that the targets pose a threat to their beliefs or way of life.
In contrast, regular crimes may be motivated by other factors, such as financial gain or personal vendettas.
2. Targeting of a specific group
Another key difference between hate crimes and regular crimes is the targeting of a specific group. Hate crimes are committed against someone because of their identity, while regular crimes may be committed against anyone. This means that hate crimes not only harm the immediate victim but also have a broader impact on the community that shares the victim’s identity.
3. Psychological impact on victims and communities
Hate crimes can have a significant psychological impact on the victim and the community. Victims of hate crimes often experience fear, anxiety, and trauma as a result of the offense. They may also feel a sense of isolation and stigma because of their identity. Hate crimes can also create a climate of fear and hostility in the community, leading to increased tension and conflict.
4. Legal consequences
Hate crimes carry enhanced legal consequences compared to regular crimes. In the U.S., hate crimes are typically prosecuted as separate offenses in addition to the underlying criminal offense. This means that the perpetrator can face additional charges and more severe punishment. Hate crime laws are designed to send a message that this type of behavior is not acceptable in our society and will not be tolerated.
It’s important to recognize that hate crimes are not just a matter of personal prejudice or bias. They are a form of violence that can have far-reaching consequences for individuals and communities. By understanding the differences between hate crimes and regular crimes, we can work towards creating a safer and more inclusive society for everyone.
Examples of hate crimes in the U.S.
Hate crimes have a long and troubling history in the U.S. The following are just a few notable examples of hate crimes that have occurred in this country over the years.
Jim Crow laws and lynching
Jim Crow laws were a series of state and local laws in the U.S. that enforced racial segregation and discrimination against Black people from the late 19th century to the mid-1960s. Lynching, the practice of killing someone by hanging them from a tree or other structure, was often used as a form of vigilante justice against Black people during this time. These acts of violence were fueled by racism and white supremacy.
Japanese internment during World War II
During World War II, the U.S. government forced over 100,000 Japanese Americans to leave their homes and live in internment camps. This act of discrimination was motivated by fear and prejudice against people of Japanese descent, and it had a profound impact on the lives of those affected.
Charlottesville, Virginia (2017)
In August 2017, a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a rally that turned violent. One counter-protester was killed, and several others were injured in the clashes that followed. The rally and subsequent violence were motivated by hate and bigotry.
Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida (2016)
In June 2016, a gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more. The shooter was motivated by homophobia and a desire to harm the LGBTQ+ community.
These examples illustrate the devastating impact that hate crimes can have on individuals and communities. They also highlight the ongoing struggle for equality and justice in the U.S.
What can be done: Preventing and responding to hate crimes
Preventing and responding to hate crimes requires a multi-faceted approach that involves education, awareness, reporting, and legal action.
Education and awareness
One of the most important ways to prevent hate crimes is through education and awareness. This includes educating people about the harmful effects of hate and prejudice, promoting tolerance and understanding, and teaching people how to recognize and respond to hate crimes. Schools, community organizations, identity groups and law enforcement agencies must all play a role in promoting education and awareness around hate crimes.
Reporting hate crimes
Reporting hate crimes is essential for holding perpetrators accountable and preventing future crimes. Victims and witnesses of hate crimes should report the incident to the relevant authorities. Reporting hate crimes can also help to raise awareness about the prevalence and impact of these crimes and can lead to better data collection and analysis.
Prosecution and punishment
Prosecuting hate crimes sends a message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated in our society. Law enforcement agencies have to investigate hate crimes thoroughly and prosecute perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law. Punishments for hate crimes should be severe enough to deter future offenses and to provide justice for the victims and their communities.
Supporting victims and communities
Supporting victims and communities is essential for healing and recovery after a hate crime. This can include providing counseling services, legal support, and other resources to help victims and their families cope with the aftermath of the crime. It can also involve creating safe spaces and promoting solidarity within communities that have been affected by hate crimes.
By working together to prevent and respond to hate crimes, we can create a safer and more inclusive society for everyone. It’s important to remember that hate crimes are not just a problem for the victim and their community; they are a threat to the values and principles that we hold dear as a nation.
We all have a responsibility to speak out against hate and to work towards creating a world that is free from discrimination and bigotry.