Overview of Hate Crimes
Hate crimes are a specific type of crime committed against individuals or groups because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, or ethnicity. Genocide is an extreme form of hate crime, and other examples include cross burnings, physical assault and even threatening text messages. Hate crimes often come about through differences between in groups and out groups, the animosity felt between them, and they are enabled through the behavior of sympathizers and spectators. As an upward law, or a law designed to punish dominant groups in society, rather than a downward law, which is designed to punish subordinate groups, hate crime laws are often underenforced. Beginning with an historical review of hate crimes, this article moves on to a discussion of the causes of hate crimes, continues with ways in which hate crimes can be prevented, and ends with a debate over the merits of additional hate crime legislation on the federal level.
ACADEMIC TOPIC OVERVIEWS
Deviance & Social Control > Overview of Hate Crimes
Hate crimes are a specific form of crime in which a person or group is verbally and/or physically attacked because of their gender, sexual orientation, religion, politics, race, ethnicity, disability, or age. Sociologists have identified several ways in which hate can be manifested. These include physical attacks; property damage; bullying tactics; insults; and threatening phone calls, e-mails, text messages, instant messages, or letters.
History of Hate Crimes
While hate crimes have received considerable attention in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the phenomenon is hardly new. One especially grievous example of hate crimes have been those perpetrated against the Jewish people since even before the time of Jesus, and culminating in the Holocaust during World War II, which is perhaps the greatest hate crime in human history. Other well-known examples of hate crimes include genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan; cross burnings, lynchings, and other actions of the Ku Klux Klan against African Americans in the United States; and threats and violence against gays and lesbians throughout the world.
In the twenty-first century, as migration patterns are resulting in a world that is more racially, ethnically, culturally, socially, and religiously mixed than it has ever been, hate crimes--crimes against the Other--have attracted considerable public attention. In some ways old hatreds have been given new life. "By 2003, there were more anti-Jewish hate attacks in European countries than at any time since World War II" (Levin, 2007, p. 81).
Researchers have noted that the concept of a hate crime presupposes a community that is morally outraged at prejudice of all kinds, and any particularly prejudicial attitudes and actions toward presumptive victim groups. According to Mason (2007), hate crime
has a heavy investment in the capacity of its victim groups to convince the general public that they have been unjustly harmed. The process by which victim status is accorded to a given group is thus far from objective. Rather, it is the product of 'collective definitions that have been developed by watchdog organisations' and 'contested in legal and public arenas' (Jenness & Broad, 1997, p. 173) (Mason, 2007, p. 265).
Hate Crimes in the United States
Hate crimes in the United States have deep roots in American history and culture. As the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notes,
Crimes of hatred and prejudice--from lynchings to cross burnings to vandalism of synagogues--are a sad fact of American history, but the term "hate crime" did not enter the nation's vocabulary until the 1980s, when emerging hate groups like the Skinheads launched a wave of bias-related crime ("Hate Crime," 2008b).
In response to these disturbing trends, 45 states have passed hate crime laws. All these states define a hate crime as a criminal act perpetrated due to the victim's race, religion, and ethnicity, while some also include sexual orientation, gender, and disability as criteria for hate crimes. Only Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming do not have hate crime statutes on their books, though hate crimes in those states are prosecuted under existing statutes covering murder, theft, harassment, and assault.
According to the 2007 FBI Hate Crime Statistics, there were 7,222 "single-bias" criminal hate crime incidents involving 9,080 offenses and 9,652 victims (defined as "a person, business, institution, or society as a whole") in 2006. An FBI analysis of those incidents revealed the following:
Table 1: Some 2006 Hate Crime Statistics
Motivation Percentage Most impacted group Racial bias 51.8% African Americans Religious bias 18.9% Jews Sexual-orientation bias 15.5% Male homosexuals Ethnicity/national origins bias 12.7% Hispanics Disability bias 1% Mentally disabled
(from "Hate Crime Statistics," 2007, http://www.fbi.gov /ucr/hc2006/index.html)
Apart from the FBI statistics, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported a 24 percent increase in racial harassment reports between 2006 and 2007. The figure is double what it was in 1991 (Bello, 2008, p. 3a).
Hate Crimes against Muslims after September 11, 2001
The attacks of September 11, 2001, sent shockwaves through American society. Coordinated terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC, brought home to many Americans that the United States is not immune to being attacked on its own soil. Because the attacks were carried out exclusively by self-professed Muslims, the attacks also shined a spotlight, perhaps for the first time, on the 2.35 million Muslims living in the United States (Pew Research Center, 2007, pp. 9-10), as well as on college and university students from Muslim-majority nations studying in the United States.
Researchers have found that the expected spike in anti-Muslim hate crime did occur in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. As one team of researchers noted, "with over 400 cases of anti-Islamic hate crime occurring nationally in the weeks after 9/11, in-group and out-group social psychology may have been amplified by the terrorist events" (Byers & Jones, 2007, p. 53).
These researchers also found, however, that the anti-Muslim hate crimes followed a specific pattern of intensity: "The time series analysis also showed that the effect of 9/11 largely dissipated within eight days of September 11. That is, the daily reports of anti-Islamic hate crimes began to level off yet did not return, on average, to the lower levels prior to 9/11" (Byers & Jones, 2007, pp. 53-54). Most curiously, given the locations of the terrorist attacks, "New York City and Washington, DC, anti-Islamic hate crime reports are essentially non-existent (DC did have one report). With the exception of Boston, MA, all other locations on the list of top 10 cities with anti-Islamic hate crime reports in 2001 were some distance from both NYC and DC" (Byers & Jones, 2007, p. 54).
In seeking to explain the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes more generally, the researchers noted the pivotal role played by political, religious, and community leaders, "Some of this effect may be accounted for by pleas in the media from Islamic and political leaders calling for calm and tolerance" (Byers & Jones, 2007, pp. 53-54).
As for the somewhat counterintuitive finding that anti-Muslim hate crimes were markedly absent from police blotters in New York City and Washington, DC, the research team suggested that this
could be accounted for by the leveling of social distinctions as shown by previous researchers (Blocker, Rochford, & Sherkat, 1991; Gonzolas-Garcia & Soriano-Parra, 1989; Neal, 1984; Turkel, 2002). In short, and consistent with the theory of in-group and outgroup differences, such distinctions may have become less important given the collective community level trauma and the "leveling of social distinctions" (Quarantelli & Dynes, 1976) (Byers & Jones, 2007, p. 54).
In other words, the trauma of the attacks drew people in New York and Washington, DC, together rather than driving them apart.
An extensive survey of Muslim Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center five years after the September 11 attacks found that "[a] quarter of Muslim Americans say they have been the victim of discrimination in the United States, while 73% say they have never experienced discrimination while living in this country" (Pew Research Center, 2007, p. 4).
One of the most controversial social and political issues in the United States in the early twenty-first century has involved illegal immigrants, also known as undocumented workers. Should they be allowed to stay in the country, and under what conditions? Could they be stopped from coming to America altogether? The vast majority of illegal immigrants come from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin and Central America (Passel, 2005, p. 2), and a considerable portion of the American public believes there are good moral and economic grounds for taking a tougher stand against these migrants. While much of the opposition to illegal immigration is conducted within legal boundaries and does not spill over into hatred and violence, hateful attitudes and actions have emerged.
FBI statistics show that the number of hate crimes perpetrated against Hispanics rose 25 percent between 2004 and 2008. Some, such as the Hispanic civil rights group the National Council of La Raza, attribute the increase to a spike in media coverage of illegal immigration (Ramirez, 2008, p. 14). The Anti-Defamation League agrees; Deborah Lauter, its civil rights director adds, "When we saw the rhetoric shift from a legitimate debate to one where immigrants were dehumanized, we believe it inspired extremists and [some] mainstream Americans to...
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