Why People Commit Hate Crimes

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When we hear about hate crimes such as the Dylan Roof church shooting and the murder of James Byrd, most of us look for details such as what punishment they received, how the community reacted, and what we can do to prevent such terrible attacks. Although those are important aspects that we should focus on, how many of us question why such a crime was committed and where the hatred came from that drove the individual to act in such a way? It is important to understand why hate crimes are committed including what forces drive individuals to commit hate crimes, who commits them, and the groups that are targeted.

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From a young age, we all learn social norms, traditions, and beliefs from those we are closest to and the society in which we were born. However, for many, prejudice and discrimination are taught to us at a young age throughout this learning process. According to social psychologists, young children learn certain prejudices by the age of three or four years old. This occurs before they can even distinguish different groups of people. Every child is exposed to prejudices whether it be through family, friends, or society and the only way for their beliefs to change is to unlearn them. (Ehrlich 2009)

The exposure to violence at a young age is also a huge contributor to individuals who commit hate crimes. Many children deal with family violence and physical abuse, and for some, it does not end until they leave home. There has been a dramatic increase in mass shootings over the past twenty years. The cause of this can be the exposure to violence at a young age whether it be through family, abuse, or even media. The American Psychological Association report says that before a child finishes elementary school, they will have witnessed over eight thousand murders on television. (Ehrlich 2009) For many, violence isn’t uncommon and is learned at a very young age, leading to an increased risk of violent behavior in the future.

Economic and social change also play a role in hate crime motives. The 1950’s play an important role because this is when desegregation in schools, the public, and the Civil Rights Movement began to take place. This allowed minorities more opportunities when it came to finding a job and a home. A majority of gay and lesbian individuals came out during this time as well. (Ehrlich 2009)

Many white people during this period felt their way of life and livelihood were threatened due to these demographic changes. These changes also lead to anger and dehumanization of these different groups of people. These feelings may have been fueled from ignorance and fear that the world they knew was beginning to change.

Many hate crimes are committed through the form of murder, assault, rape, and vandalism by an individual alone or a group of individuals. Although those may seem like crimes that occur often and not considered a hate crime, when it is considered a hate crime they have a different motive behind them. Everyday criminals commit crimes for personal gain such as money and objects. Hate crime perpetrators commit crimes motivated by biases. These biases are targeted towards different groups due to their gender, religion, race, and sexual orientation. (Marcovitz 2018)

When it comes to hate crime offenders, a common phrase that they use is that they are not motivated by their hatred towards a group of people but rather their love for “their own kind”. (Ehrlich 2009) The belief that is most common of a hate crime perpetrator is that they are typically white males who are middle aged, come from a financially stable home and have minimal to no criminal charges.

In 2016, the FBI reported that 46% of hate crimes were committed by whites. As for minorities, the percentage of perpetrators were 26% African American and 1% Asian American’s as well as Native American’s and 8% were committed by other races. (Marcovitz 2018)

There is a common belief that hate crime offenders act alone. However, many offenders will form groups known as “Hate Groups”. Offenders will look for others who have the same beliefs and prejudices. It isn’t a difficult task for offenders who think alike to find one another. Many hate groups can be found on the internet, sharing their ideas and hatred. (Marcovitz 2018)

The most well-known hate group is the KKK (Ku Klux Klan). There have been many small groups that have been formed and claim allegiance to the KKK, sharing the same beliefs and symbols. (Marcovitz 2018) The smaller groups include Neo-Nazis and Skinheads who base themselves around the beliefs of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The main goal of these hate groups is to spread their message rather than committing crimes that involve assault, harassment, and murder. In fact, no more than 10-15% of hate groups are responsible for hate crimes. (Perry 2012) However, these groups should not be taken lightly, and we should still be concerned with them. They can help motivate offenders and persuade them to go out and commit violent hate crimes.

In 2016, the FBI stated that there were over 6,121 criminal incident reports that were motivated by hate. As a result, 7,615 people were victimized by these hate crimes. (Marcovitz 2018) Not all hate crimes involve physical harm but also aim to inflict emotional harm as well. A commonly targeted group when it comes to hate crimes is the LGBT community.

Many offenders will direct hate crimes towards them because the society and environment they live in suggests that they do not follow social norms and that they are different. This is not uncommon because most hate crime offenders’ anger is fueled by people who don’t fit into their societal norms. (CALCASA 2010) Sexual assaults are some of the most common offenses against someone in the LGBT community. Many offenders will view sexual assaults as “putting them back into their role as feminine women”. Many offenders believe that not just them, but the rest of society views them as a “menace to society” and that when they offend, they are doing a “good deed” and the rest of society will thank them for it. (CALCASA 2010)

It is very common for those in the LGBT community to not report a hate crime against them. A study in Los Angeles conducted by Dr. Edward Dunbar stated that victims of sexual assaults are less likely to report the assault to police because they fear the consequences by the perpetrator. (CALCASA 2010) The also fear that law enforcement will not handle the situation to the best of their abilities and that the legal system is biased against them. Also, it can be difficult to prove that the crime was committed and motivated by bias. When a member of the LGBT community is a victim of a hate crime, the whole community is affected as well. It can cause fear and anxiety in the community which is one of the goals of the offender.

Studies show that hate crimes committed against gay people affect both the individual and the community. It can instill fear in the community and make them feel unsafe, causing psychological damage. A study done by Kansas State University found that “the brutality of hate crimes has consequences for the entire community, not just the victim. It is not an exaggeration to say that bias-motivated attacks function as a form of terrorism, sending a message to all lesbians and gay men that they are not safe if they are visible. Thus, when one does not personally know the victim, hate crimes can threaten the illusion of invulnerability that is so important to one’s daily life”. (Marcovitz 2018) Many same-sex couples claim that they don’t feel safe in public when showing affection due to people possibly harming and harassing them.

In conclusion, there is much more to focus on when it comes to hate crimes. We need to understand why these offenders are filled with such hatred towards a group of people and where it comes from. It’s important to realize that many of us grow up learning different norms and beliefs. Many people are raised in a family and grow up surrounded by people with prejudices as well as violence, making it more likely for hate crimes to occur in the future. It is no exaggeration when hate crimes are referred to as an act of terrorism. Hate crimes don’t just affect the person targeted but the entire community as well. These crimes cause fear and make an entire community worry and question if they will be the next victim. By understanding why hate crimes occur and where some of the hatred comes from, we can prevent future crimes from occurring.

Reference Page

  1. Focusing on Pride (Part 2): Hate Crimes Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Survivors of Sexual Assault (pp. 1-24, Rep.). (2010). Sacramento, CA: California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Retrieved 2010, from https://www.calcasa.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/LGBT-Part-2-FINAL-UPLOAD-12.29.10.pdf.
  2. Marcovitz, H. (2018). Hate Crimes. San Diego, CA: ReferencePoint Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ccsu.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1849609&site=ehost-live&scope=site
  3. Perry, B. (2012). Hate and Bias Crime : A Reader. Hoboken: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ccsu.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=507065&site=ehost-live&scope=site
  4. Ehrlich, H. J. (2009). Hate Crimes and Ethnoviolence : The History, Current Affairs, and Future of Discrimination in America. Boulder, CO: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ccsu.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=267676&site=ehost-live&scope=site
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Why People Commit Hate Crimes. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/why-people-commit-hate-crimes/