Hate Crimes and Hate Violence

Hate crime, also known as a bias crime, is often a criminal act committed with a prejudice/bias motive. One key factor in differentiating hate crimes from a regular crime is the specific motive. Hate crimes can range from an act of intimidation, threats, assault, property -damage, murder and/or any other criminal acts. Victims of racially-motivated hate crimes are pre-dominantly targeted because of their perceived identity or group membership. Because of the victims perceived identity and or group membership, when a hate crime is committed against the individual; it affects the group or community as a whole. For victims, being targeted for membership in certain groups could have a long-lasting torturous effect on the person’s psychological well-being, including greater fear of violence and an increased sense of vulnerability (Gladfelter, Lantz, Ruback, 2017). Since the late 19th century to the 20th century, Jim crow laws were in full effect, segregating and allowing white people to commit hate violence upon colored families around the country. From 1886-1968, over 4700 lynchings took place in the United States. Of these people, over 3400 were African American and accounted for 72.7% of the people lynched (Mack, 1998). Although it has been 55 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was ratified which abolished Jim Crow laws, we still face existential hate crime-related violence in America. The most recent being the Christ church mosque shooting, which left 49 dead and countless injured. Just like any other mass shootings in America, the motive behind the mosque shooting was white supremacy and racially/ethnically motivated prejudices.

In recent years, hate crimes have been on a rise, causing a public outcry and many protests around the country. Hate crime and the punishments for the crimes are defined differently by each state, and even the federal standard has shifted multiple times (Jacobs, Henry, 1996). Recently it is defined as a crime, usually resulting in violence, it is a criminal offense against an individual or a group motivated by an offender’s prejudice against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity. According to the FBI’s most recent statistics report, there has been a 17 percent increase in reported hate crimes, compared to other years and religion-based hate crimes increased to 22 percent. Many law enforcement agencies disclosed there were, “7,175 hate crimes in America during 2017, up from 6,121 in 2016” (FBI, 2018). The spike in hate crime this year is one of the biggest spikes since the burst of incidents involving Muslims in 2001, after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. In comparison, according to the UCR reports from 2008, of all the hate crime incidents reported, 19.5 percent were motivated by religious bias. (FBI, 2018). Our legal system has a hard time sentencing people for hate crimes because it is extraordinarily difficult to prove that an individual had a bias and acted upon a bias at the time of the incident. This type of crime is prevalent and is on the rise now more than ever. It can occur anywhere at any time and/or any setting and is predominately committed against a minority group or LGBTQ members.

In a study conducted by J. Levin and McDevitt, the authors suggested that hate crime offenders could be grouped into three major categories, according to the motivation of the offender. After interviewing police officials, victims and several offenders, the authors developed the three primary motivations for hate crime violence; which are; offenders who commit the crime for the excitement or the thrill, offenders who view themselves as doing a greater good/defensive and offenders who view anyone who they do not agree or have anything in common with as lesser than a human being and the need to get rid of them/retaliatory. The thrill seekers are often immature and are driven by an itch for excitement and drama. When you think of immature thrill seekers, typically bored and drunk young men rampaging through neighborhoods comes to mind. Often there is no actual reason for this violence, they are only committed for the thrill of it. Often the victims are vulnerable simply because of their sexual, racial, ethnic, gender or religious background which differs from their attackers. In Levin and McDevitt’s study, while the thrill seekers were young, they were very dangerous. Another type of offenders is categorized as Defensive offender. Unlike the thrill seekers who seek out for violence, defensive offenders target specific victims and try to justify their crimes as necessary to deter the threat. Historically in America, many times offenders are triggered by a black family moving into “their” neighborhood or workplace, triggering the offenders to use “defensive” violence. Defensive offenders feel as if they are doing something that is good for not only them but also for society. Much like the thrill-seekers, defensive offenders show little to no remorse about inflicting hate-based violence upon people who are different from themselves. The final type of offenders is known as retaliatory offenders. These are one of the most prominent and most news covered types of offenders. Retaliatory offenders often commit crimes and inflict violence upon members of a racial, ethnic or religious group whom the offenders believe is guilty of a crime – even if the victims had nothing to do with the crime. These types of eye-for-eye type of ideology typically increase after a terrorist attack (Levin, McDevitt, Bennett, 2002).

While trends and patterns can be trackable, it is utterly impossible to know for a fact what percentage of people are affected by hate crimes/violence. Many people do not report hate violence, and even when they do, it could be hard to prove a bias motive. According to the UCR reports, in 2017 there were 7,106 single-bias incidents involving 8,493 victims. Of the 8,493 victims, 59.6 percent of the victims were targeted because of their race/ethnicity/ancestry bias. 20.6 percent were targeted because of their religion. 15.8 percent were victimized because of their sexual orientation. 1.6 percent were targeted because of their gender identity and .6 percent were victimized because of their gender bias (FBI, 2017).

When a person with bias and prejudice doesn’t have something go his or her way, they seek out retribution. For example, before 9/11, Muslims were not stereotyped and marginalized as they are now, just because certain people committed an atrocious crime, people needed to blame someone and wanted to seek retribution, hence they settled on everyone who is a Muslim. According to the U.S FBI statistics, in 2001, 281 hate crimes occurred with a specific anti-Islamic motive, with 279 committed within the 2-week period beginning on 9/11/2001. It seems very clear and certain that those waves of hate crimes were in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Although there is no set time or place where hate crime violence takes place, there are certain trends that happen every year or every time something monumental takes place, like an election, passing of controversial laws, and/or terrorist attack. Research shows that hate crime violence is often defensive in nature and is inflicted on a group of people from another group or individual (King, Sutton, 2013).

One of the prominent theories of crime causation, that explains why people commit hate crimes is the social learning theory. According to social learning theory, usually, a child grows up in a household listening to the parent’s negative prejudices. As the child grows up, the hate against specific people is learned and reinforced by the child’s interactions with their parents, hence it may provide justification for hate crimes against an out-group member. Those children when they grow up and become adults, they will primarily be surrounded by individuals whom they share the same prejudice views. Thus, furthermore enhancing their prejudice against other individuals. The group mentality makes them act out and inflict violence upon other individuals. For example, the Ku Klux Klan, al-Qaida, and many more hate groups. According to a study conducted by Richard J. Hughbank & David L. Hughbank, Social learning theory is the coercion that people learn to be aggressive by shadowing others and watching them aggressively achieve some goal or being rewarded as a direct result of committing violent acts, and hatred towards a group of people or individual. Hate groups like the KKK or Alt-right neo Nazi’s rewards and praises individuals for committing hatred violence against a minority group. White supremacists and terrorists abroad target individuals who have grown up with the hate ideology surrounding them and radicalize them to inflict violence upon an out-group with promises of rewards and respect from the members (Hughbank, & Hughbank, 2007). Individuals who are surrounded by like-minded peers increases the likelihood of committing hate crimes resulting in violence. When surrounded by people who think the same as you and promote the same hate you do, it makes the individual feel as if they are individual and want to release the anger and frustration on an outgroup.

Although there are multiple theories that could explain why people commit hate crimes/hate violence. Group Conflict Theories in which a group membership serves as a strong individual need for affiliation and acceptance and intergroup conflict strongly facilitates group cohesiveness and identity. Or Strain theory in which when there is societal and culturally emphasized goals and people who can not reach those goals see others who do and lash out against them (Walter, 2010). Nothing explains the cause and reason for hate crimes and hate violence better than Social learning theory. Social learning theory states that behavior is learned when reinforced and positive reinforcement will have a positive outcome in a person and if there is negative reinforcement, then the negative outcome will come. No one is born a racist, everyone learns to be a racist. This usually happens at home, when parents and family members have a prejudice against certain groups of people and that child sees it. The child groups up and acts out against the minority groups of people in most times violent ways, for approval. This provides an explanation as to why hate crime especially hate violence occurs in our society.

Primary References:

  1. Gladfelter, A. S., Lantz, B., & Ruback, R. B. (2017). The Complexity of Hate Crime and Bias Activity: Variation across Contexts and Types of Bias. Justice Quarterly, 34(1), 55-83. https://doi.org/10.1080/07418825.2015.1096952
  2. Hughbank, R. J., & Hughbank, D. L. (2007). The Application of the Social Learning Theory to Domestic Terrorist Recruitment. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=244084
  3. James B. Jacobs and Jessica S. Henry, The Social Construction of a Hate Crime Epidemic, 86 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 366 (1996).
  4. King, r. D., and Sutton, g. M. (2013), High times for hate crimes: explaining the temporal clustering of hate?motivated offending. Criminology, 51: 871-894. doi:10.1111/1745-9125.1202
  5. Mcdevitt, J., Levin, J., & Bennett, S. (2002). Hate Crime Offenders: An Expanded Typology. Journal of Social Issues, 58(2), 303-317. doi:10.1111/1540-4560.00262
  6. Walters, M. A. (2010). A General Theories of Hate Crime? Strain, Doing Difference and Self Control. Critical Criminology, 19(4), 313-330. doi:10.1007/s10612-010-9128-2
  7. Secondary References:
  8. https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2017-2018/topic-pages/incidents-and-offenses (background/statistics)
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