Hate crimes are on the rise, but what makes a crime a hate crime? How is prejudice different from the threat of violence through assault? Keep reading to learn more.
Defining Hate Crimes
The U.S. Department of Justice describes a hate crime as:
A crime + motivation for committing the crime based on bias = hate crime
What separates a hate crime from other criminal acts is motivation: if the offense is fueled by the need to harm someone based on their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or another characteristic, it is a hate crime. These criminal acts are the most extreme form of prejudice.
Hate crimes are not limited to assault, but they can include:
- Sexual violence
It may seem like a modern problem, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been investigating hate crimes since World War I. However, the role of investigators in hate crimes shifted when investigation and prosecution became a federal problem instead of just a local issue.
The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 put the onus of protecting marginalized groups on society as a whole instead of leaving it to the victims. Now, as more people become aware of the scope of hatred against minorities in the U.S., it’s important to differentiate hate crimes from other criminal acts.
Examples of Assault vs. Hate Crimes
- A person attempts to return an item at a department store. The employee calmly informs the customer that the item is non-refundable, and the store cannot accept it. The customer proceeds to hurl insults and throws the item at the employee, causing a head wound.
- While visiting a theme park, an African American family is waiting in line for one of the roller coasters. Another visitor behind them pushes the family out of the way to get ahead in line. When the family asks the individual why they would do that, they call the family a racial slur. The individual also threatens to push them again if they don’t leave the park.
In example one, the customer does not use the employee’s race, ethnicity, religion, or other characteristics against them. They acted out in rage, but it was not a direct result of prejudice. While the crime resulted in serious physical and emotional harm, it wasn’t motivated by bias, making it an assault, not a hate crime.
However, in example two, the other theme park visitor clearly targeted and attacked the family out of hatred for African American and Black people. The individual used prejudice as a justification for violence and threatened further harm, making this a hate crime.
One of the most common biases in existence is the bias or hatred for someone or a group of people because of some element of their identity. For example, Klu Klux Klan members have a bias against Black and African American people, while Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists have biases against transgender people.
The LGBTQIA+ community includes many people who identify with specific labels or ideas associated with attraction and physical presentation. This community doesn’t just include gays and lesbians – nonbinary, trans, asexual, and bisexual people all fall into the LGBT category. Hate crimes toward members of the queer community continue despite education and normalization of same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. When a person is attacked specifically for their attraction or presentation, it is a hate crime.
In the same way that people may be prejudiced toward other races or sexualities, religious prejudice can also take place. Religious bias doesn’t have to be on a large scale. There have been several one-man attacks on churches, mosques, and holy places in the United States in the last decade alone. In most of these incidents, the aggressor admitted to specifically targeting these places because of their religious affiliation.
Last but certainly not least, is the predjucide against those One of the least recognized biases are those against disabled people. Disabilities can be developmental, physical, mental, or the result of a traumatic injury. People with disabilities lack equal access to education, employment, and even public buildings.
Hate crimes are serious offenses, and the uptick in racially motivated violence in Alameda County is leading members of the community to call for the punishment of the offenders.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a thin line between assault and hate crimes. Wrongfully accusing someone of a hate crime can have serious consequences, and it may overshadow actual cases of violent prejudice.
If you have been accused of assault or a hate crime, contact The Law Office of David A. Webster, P.A. to find out how we can help.