Critical Analysis of Hate Crime in the U.S.
Within the last 10 years, hate crimes based upon sexual orientation have increased by 30% percent, around 1300 crimes per year, with many more incidents around the United States unreported. Hate crime must be defined by Federal statute and the government afforded the power to enforce sanctions against violators to insure the safety of the American public. Hate crime and hate speech thrive within our country, and can go unnoticed due to insufficient coverage from the media and lack of public interest. Hate continues to ravage our cities everywhere, even in our own backyard. In 2010 alone, there were nearly 10 hate crimes in New Bern, North Carolina, the majority of them violent in nature. In order to ensure the safety of all citizens, hate crime must be defined by federal law. Until then, America’s racists and psychopaths will continue to harm our communities.
According to the FBI, a hate crime is “a traditional offense like murder, arson or vandalism with an added element of bias…” (FBI 1) Another possible definition for a hate crime from the Anti Defamation League is “a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.” Even though there is a definition from the FBI, hate crimes merit no federal classification, and are left up to local governance branches to deliberate. To make matters worse, out of three levels of hate crime, two levels merit attention from a higher court, while the last garners statistic collection and local adjudication. This is owing to the first two categories being classified as violent or extremely malicious, while the third is usually a nonviolent or minor offense. Another category, verbal hate, is not considered a hate crime, as the First Amendment protects it under freedom of speech. (FBI 1)
There are two definitions of hate speech. Within the FBI, it is classified as “any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group.” (FBI 2) According to nonprofits and those not involved with the government, it is defined as “a communication that vilifies a person or a group based on discrimination against that person or group.” (FBI 2) Hate speech, though prohibited by local law, is not prohibited federally. It remains undefined, and tends to divide senators owing to interpretation of the first amendment. Local governments enact laws to regulate when and where hate speech can take place. For example, on a few college campuses there is a free speech zone in which students are allowed to express how they. Because of protests from the students and surrounding communities, some have abandoned this activity completely. As hate speech continues to thrive in specific areas, people who share similar malicious beliefs are beginning to rally.
Hate speech usually stems from small pockets of people who work together for a specific cause, which leads to the formation of hate groups. Hate groups are started with people who share similar ideologies or biases, such as hate of homosexuality or ethnic origin. Instead of remaining isolated, members tend to stick in groups due for protection from others. Hate groups express hateful messages, rally for more support, and even exact violent crimes upon the objects of their hatred. These groups can also use size to their advantage, bullying those who cannot defend themselves or those who lack the proper resources. In the American South, the Ku Klux Klan used this to their advantage. Throughout the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, the Klan used methods such as lynching and cross-burning to effectively discourage black hopes for equality. (Liberman 92)
Hate crimes carry several negative conequences that go beyond the immediate crime. One of the first and foremost issues with hate crime is the psychological it can generate from victims. According to the American Psychological Association’s Office of Minority Affairs, victims of violent or nonviolent bias crimes are more susceptible to stress-inducing conditions a victims of normal crimes. One major condition is Post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD) in which victims relive a violent or severely disturbing occurrence in their lives. PTSD not only causes extreme distress, but also disturbances in the circadian rhythm, irritability, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. Victims who have experienced hate crimes also tend to alienate themselves from social contact, and cannot keep healthy relationships with one another. The loss of relationships is one of many problems with PTSD, including: substance abuse, violent behavior, severe headaches, gastrointestinal issues such as stomach ulcers, and insomnia. (Elmore 1)
In a study published by American Behavioral Scientist, many victims of hate crimes reported feeling unsafe. The group of biased crime victims also reported they felt greater and adverse psychological effects after their occurrence, more than that of a regular crime victim. 59% percent of biased crime victims reported feeling unsafe after the events of their attack, while 46% percent of nonbiased crime victims reported feeling unsafe. (Hate crime victims attested they were afraid due to the likelihood of a repeat occurrence in the near future.) Along with this, 77% percent of biased crime victims in the study were paying more attention to their behavior, even going out of their way to avoid areas in the community that are known to contain future offenders. (McDevvit et al. 682)
Victims are worried that this type of hate will translate into the younger crowd, and for good reason. According to the United States Department of justice, “31% percent of hate based violent offenders and 46% percent of hate-based nonviolent offenders 1997-2001 were under the age of 18.” Recently data indicates that 50% of hate crime offenders are under the age of 25. McDevvit et al. 683) This brings to light a serious problem with the spread of hate. As hate is passed on through generations, people have begun to grow worried of an outbreak of violence unable to be controlled. If outbreaks were to occur then crowds of offenders would surface, and crowds often lead to mob mentality. With mob mentality, the spread of hate would be an effective tool in coercion, and eventually encompass areas of communities, bringing its wide array of psychological disorders, anxiety, and other stipulations. Hate is not to be taken widely, and can send out rippling effects within communities and even the world.
One such example of the effects of hate crimes and their psychological fallout is the case of Matthew Shepard, a teen from Laramie, Wyoming who was brutally murdered due to his sexuality. The community of Laramie immediately came to the aid of Shepard’s family, who were shocked by the grisly killing of the teen. His mother reported having to combat severe depression and anxiety from the event, knowing the town was unsafe even to kids of different sexual orientation. The community was severely affected; to this day the community honors the boy annually, and even created an association to help combat the adverse effects of hate crime on victims. According to the American Psychological Association, hate crime victims tend to recover better when giving appropriate support and resources after the initial trauma. Along with psychological effects, there are other implications hate crime carries.
Hate crimes negatively affect local economies. An example is tourism. Hate crimes spread fear, and fear is a limiting factor in our psyches. People who are Africans will not find a spot attractive, and could choose an alternate location to visit out of fear of bias crimes. For example, over the last decade Seattle has experienced a wide array of violent hate crimes, including some against tourists, driving residents to take action. Because local real estate values were plummeting and the tourism industry made up a significant portion of the local economy, senators were forced to enact a hate crime bill that was combined with another regarding tourism. (Goetz et al. 914) Commercial interactions are what drive our economy; reducing them would make the economy begin to decline.
The town of Shepherdsville, Kentucky experienced a series of bias crimes, which led to the closure of a business and the departure of a citizen from the town. Owned by an Iraqi-immigrant, the business Jacob’s Smoke Shop was closed due to property destruction from a hate crime. Xenophobic messages such as “Hate Arab” and “Go Home” were found spray-painted to the walls and to the floors. Not taking any chances, the man registered paperwork with the Kentucky secretary of state to close the business. When talking to reporters, he even claimed, “He feared for his life and was returning to Iraq.” Hate crime can target businesses that aid in the local and national economy, and can easily dent the economy itself by targeting specific businesses. (Green et al. 83)
Another major issue is the effects of hate crime in lower-socioeconomic areas. Hate crime is an effective tool in preventing those of lower economic status from leaving their current standing to lead better lives. In a study done by the United States Department of Urban Development, 50% percent of African-Americans reported they had been discriminated against when trying to purchase an alternate place to live. In the city of Compton, Latino gangs targeted African-American families in drive-by shootings to discourage them from moving into the neighborhood. People are trying to escape areas of lower income because of reasons such as safety, but are being pushed down due to the effects of hate. A study in the Eastern Economics Journal showed areas with lower incomes compared with those of mid to high income tend to cultivate more hate crime in general. (Lewis, Heath, Ressler, 212) Because money can be very tight in these areas, families are more likely to be stressed, and stress can lead to others taking their stress out on others. One possible solution to money management would be the reformation of the United States’ welfare system, as it can help maintain relationships in and outside of households with those of different race, religion, or sex. Government housing and public transportation within these areas are also quite susceptible to hate crimes, in many cases violent hate crimes. (Green et al. 89) Recently in Oakland California, a white male fell asleep on a bus and awoke to his pants on fire. He was take to the hospital for second degree burns, caused by a group of African American teenagers who admitted to targeting the man due to his ethnicity. The emergence of biased crimes within this area has made it difficult for families to escape the influx of hate and poverty. Without proper reforms, hate will continue to spread throughout our entire American social structure. It is important to keep in mind that grievance and envy are significant factors in the spread of hate crime.
The infamous Westboro Baptist Church, known for their picketing of funerals for homosexuals and soldiers, is located in the city of Topeka, Kansas. Their only method of staying in business is their family of lawyers, which is able to countersue any type of lawsuit that can be brought their way. (Anti-Defamation League 1) As Westboro remains in Topeka, the group is able to displace businesses around Topeka. Even though the town apologizes incessantly for housing the hate group, there is nothing they can truly do except wait until they collapse from the inside. Residents have reported that businesses that deal with lumber and trade along the Kansas and Mississippi Rivers, when deciding between Topeka and another city, will choose the later due to the “hateful” nature of Topeka citizens. The Westboro Baptist Church, even though it is not physically destroying businesses themselves, is driving away potential job offers and employment opportunities for Topeka. (Green et al. 86) Recently, a petition was placed on the White House website to classify the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group in order to take away its tax exempt status as a church. Of the ten thousand signatures the petition was supposed to receive to help spur the government into thinking Westboro is a hate group, it gained almost 250 thousand within the time it was due. (Meier 2) As long as the Westboro Baptist Church remains in Topeka, it will generate discord and anger amongst its citizens, as well as affect the local economy.
Even though there have been breakthroughs with legislation regarding hate crime, there has been almost no effort to define hate crime on a federal level. Currently, hate crime and hate speech are regulated and deliberated on a local level, with most states creating their own laws. For example, in the state of Wisconsin upholds statutes that punish hate crimes further, such as longer jail sentences, while Nebraska simply leaves a hate crime offender’s sentence as is. In other words, Wisconsin is less lenient on hate crime sentencing then other states. Depending where one lives, hate crime laws tend to differ, and their definition as of right now is not set in stone. Defining hate crime would do a few beneficial things for the United States. First, it would aid in the collection of statistics. According to a study done by the University of Pennsylvania, almost 37% percent of violent and non-violent hate crimes go unreported every year. (Liberman 97) With the definition of hate crimes, victims would be able to report offenses with the peace of mind that they would not be harmed futher. With the collection of statistics, it will be easier to target hate groups and alienate them from society. Data taken will be used to aid in the prosecution of hate groups, and will ultimately lead to a better lifestyle within the United States as a whole.
Some believe that hate crime is difficult to categorize because one cannot channel another’s inner thoughts or psyche. However, this is not the case. It is easy to check a person’s background information when he is being processed for a crime. Even though the process is tedious, it aids in the prosecution of dangerous entities based on past associations or interactions, and can help find other accomplices associated with the crime at hand. If one were to judge a crime based on intent rather than motive, hate crime laws would be able to avoid many of the challenges posed against them. In the American justice system, motives behind a crime remain the key to deliberating in a crime. If hate crime were to reverse this and base prosecution on intent it would be easier on the courts and it would be easier to keep dangerous people off the streets. Intent would be an easy means to prove. Basing intent through thorough background checks, previous associations, and former actions would help establish a hate-based criminal offender. (Converse 485)
The final reason to codify a definition of hate crimes is for safety of targeted groups. The world is a dangerous place, filled with dangerous people. Hate crime, violent or non-violent, is a great threat to the American populace and a great threat to the unity of out country. Defining hate crime would aid in the capture and prosecution of dangerous criminals. All the jury would need was the federal definition of hate crime, excluding all the various statutes implemented by state government. If the United States were to do this, it would be able to take dangerous people off the streets and into a correctional facility, promoting a sense of general safety. Overall, morale would be higher. To expedite the prosecution of hate crime, we would need to define hate crime, and base it on intent instead of motive. With this, the people would be safer, not to mention it would help establish a base line for any other hateful occurrences, including hate speech.
Even though hate speech is covered by the First Amendment, there is a difference between speaking freely and speaking with intent of malice on a person or body of people. The development of the Internet has made it difficult for moderators to control hate speech on the web, and has allowed hate groups to bypass reforms erected by the government. Codifying laws on hate crime would stem to hate speech eventually. Classifying hate speech has been a touchy subject, but if it were to be defined, hate would be harder to spread through media such as the Internet. Filters could be established to restrict certain intolerant words and servers could be set up to monitor the activities od specific sites that are message boards for specific hate groups. (Small) While censorship is a violation of free speech, there is a distinction between speech and hate. The apprehension of users with malignant intents can easily be tracked and put away. Codification of hate speech is essential to the preservation of the United States.
In Europe, laws have been set in place to help catch hate speech, and throw its speakers into jail with long sentences and heavy fines. Laws in Europe were established after the World War II genocide. These laws are zero tolerance, meaning if there is proof, there is a trial and jail. Hate speech in Europe is defined as the following: “phrases that advocate genocide and incite hatred against an identifiable group.” With this in mind, hate speech is easily defined and can be identified quickly and recorded if necessary. Recently, a British fashion designer John Galliano was arrested in France for anti-Semitic comments recorded by a local in a bar. Galliano was fined 31 thousand dollars and given sixth months of prison for the remark. (Small) By prohibiting hate speech, governments balance freedom of speech with other democratic values. No matter what status, ethnic origin, or religion of a person, they are able to participate in a democracy; to speak their mind without the fear of being hurt or molested in any way. Classifying hate speech comes from defining hate speech, a lofty goal lawmakers must undertake to aid in the apprehension of dangerous criminals. Hate crime and hate speech have grown out of control, and with laws to clearly define them, it will be considerably easier for government officials to stem the tide of slander and xenophobia. (Converse 497)
Hate speech must be defined by Federal statute and the government afforded the power to enforce sanctions against violators. Over the last 20 years, violent and agenda-based crimes have increased in specific communities. As the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transsexual community grows, it has been pitted against specific groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, the American Family Association, and the Family Research Council. Recently, the Westboro Baptist Church has begun to protest the funerals of gay dead soldiers, and even the children of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Their forms of protest have drawn quite a bit of controversy from the media and American public, defining them as religious extremists and terrorists in their own fashion. A play created by British students entitled The Laramie Project, was a dedicated to the life of Matthew Shepard, and once the Church had beard about it, immediately signed on to protest it. Subsequently, they were barred from entering the United Kingdom for life and were chastised by the world’s media. (Anti-Defamation League 4)This example shows no one wants hate. Hate is ever-present in today’s society, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. If laws were set in place to define what hate crime was, the United States could effectively eliminate hate groups and prosecute their members. Out of hate crime codification, a sound mind and stable local economies would emerge, instilling a source of equilibrium in the United States. According to a study done by University of California School of Law, if hate crimes were to be specifically defined, violent and nonviolent biased crimes would drop below 5,000 offenses per year within the nest five decades. (Stotzer 3)
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- Stotzer, Rebecca. “Comparison of Hate Crime Rates Across Protected and Unprotected Groups.” University of California School of Law. The Williams Institute, June 2007. Web. 10. Sep 2013.