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Hate Crimes




Vernellia R. Randall
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Hate crimes are message crimes, different from other crimes in that the offender is sending a message to members of a certain group that they are unwelcome in a particular neighborhood, community, school, or workplace.[24]

One of the most abhorrent and damaging forms of racial and ethnic discrimination in the United States, which unfortunately is on the increase, is “hate crimes.”Racially motivated hate crimes are more than just isolated incidences of violence against one individual or institution.These acts affect every member of the targeted group and create tension and undermine race relations not only in the locality where they occur, but throughout the country.Racially motivated hate crimes occur throughout the nation on a daily basis – on average fifteen times per day.Sometimes, these acts receive a great deal of public attention, such as when James Byrd, Jr., an African American from Jasper, Texas, was dragged to death behind a truck in 1998.But, the media usually covers only a few particularly heinous events.According to official reports, in 1998 (the same year that James Byrd, Jr. was murdered), over 5,467 people of color were targeted for assault, murder, harassment, or threats because of their race or ethnicity.[25]Many non-governmental groups believe that these statistics, compiled by the federal government, grossly underestimate the extent of hate crimes that are actually occurring throughout the United States, because many of these crimes go unreported, or are not properly attributed to racial or ethnic discrimination.

The U.S. Congress defines a hate crime as "a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person."[26]Over the last decade, the federal government has begun to collect on an ongoing basis data on the number and type of hate crimes occurring nation-wide.But there are indications that hate crimes continue to be under-counted and under-reported.As a result, there is a lack of awareness of the true extent and seriousness of the problem and to date an organized effort is not being made to combat the dramatic increase in hate crimes that are occurring.The one possible exception is the government’s response to church burnings, which may help to serve as a model for dealing with other forms of hate crimes.

What we know about racially motivated hate crimes is that:
bullet they are far more extensive than the public realizes or the government admits;
bullet in six southern states, three to four times the number of hate crimes reported by the FBI have actually been committed;
bullet currently, no statewide agencies or organizations comprehensively monitor or provide training that addresses hate crimes in any of the states surveyed;
bullet many victims do not report hate crimes due to fear, and many police agencies do not designate hate crimes for what they are;
bullet some local government agencies do not like to report hate crimes incidents, for fear of making their communities look “bad;”
bullet many hate crime cases go unsolved; and
bullet often, the affected victims and communities are unclear on how to respond to these crimes, incidents and hate group activities.
Many of these problems are directly related to the lack of an effective data collection system. More forceful and frequent action needs to be taken by the Federal Government to systemize the regular collection and distribution of statistics and other information on these violations, and to seek prosecution of hate crimes, as part of a broad effort to prevent them from occurring. A significant part of this effort should include more extensive and ongoing training for local law enforcement officials on how to report and respond to hate crimes. Additionally, more resources and effort need to be allocated towards anti-bias education programs and other grassroots and community initiatives that enable communities to respond more effectively to hate crime incidents.


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