The Need for Hate Crime Laws
Motivated by a hateful ideology, perpetrators of hate crime seek to terrorize not just an individual, but a victim's entire community. Without a swift response, these crimes can spiral into increased tension, hostility and violence. However, when combined with positive community action, the enforcement of hate crime laws can send a powerful, countervailing message which reassures victims and shuns perpetrators. The laws do not punish beliefs or speech. They only take effect if a crime was committed. Such laws were upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1993.
Hate Crimes Defined
A hate crime is a crime motivated by the victim's actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability.* Generally, hate crimes are assaults, criminal threats of violence, vandalism or property damage. To determine that a hate crime has occurred, it must first be established that a crime was committed. Hateful speech, no matter how offensive, is generally not a criminal offense. Then, determine if the perpetrators left clues that could indicate that they were motivated to commit the crime because of the victim's background. This might include statements made during the crime or written notes or messages. If a crime was committed based on the target's background, it could potentially be a hate crime.
Hate incidents involve behaviors that, though motivated by bias against a victim's race, religion, ethnic/national origin, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation, are not criminal acts. Examples of hate incidents can include name-calling, epithets or the distribution of hate material in public places. Even though a crime was not committed, police should be interested in documenting these incidents. By documenting bias-motivated speech or behavior, law enforcement can help defuse a potentially dangerous situation.