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social sciences

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Hate Crimes  
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Some critics have further argued that enhanced sentencing punishes thought because the only difference between an ordinary crime and the "same" crime when motivated by bias is the animating bias, and all Americans, even criminals, have freedom of expression and should not be punished for their thoughts.

The Argument for Enhanced Sentencing

A defender of hate crimes legislation might reply that a crime motivated by hate is not the "same" crime at all, but a different one, warranting a different response from the criminal justice system, including the possibility of a stiffer sentence. Were the animating motive absent, the crime would not have occurred. Moreover, the criminal law routinely considers motive, as in making distinctions between murder in the first degree, homicide, and manslaughter, even though the victim is as dead in each case.

Sponsor Message.

Perhaps the best argument in favor of hate crime legislation is that such crimes are attacks not merely against an individual, but also against the entire group of which he or she is, or is perceived to be, a member. They are "message crimes," usually addressed to groups that are particularly vulnerable.

Consequently, hate crimes intimidate, degrade, and effect psychologically not merely the individual attacked, but all members of the associated group. They tear at the fabric of American society by reinforcing negative stereotypes about certain groups, and imply that some groups are legitimate targets.

Laws against hate crimes are based on the assumption that all Americans are equal and deserve equal protection. Ignoring hate crimes in the law gives the impression that the state is unmoved when groups of Americans are singled out because of a social bias against them.

In addition, having statutes against hate crimes makes it far less easy for members of the criminal justice system, including police, prosecutors, judges, and juries, to discriminate against victims of hate crimes. With the enactment of hate crimes laws, these officials are less likely to fail to take the victim seriously or to multiply the victim's injury by not investigating the crime or prosecuting the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law simply because they share in the social prejudice against the victim's group.

Bias Crime Indicators

To determine whether a hate crime has occurred, trained law enforcement officials review factors known as "bias crime indicators," such as racial, ethnic, or cultural differences, comments or written statements, gestures or graffiti, membership in organized hate groups, and lack of other motives.

These factors suggest that the crime was not random, and that the victim was specifically targeted because of her or his race, religion, or sexual orientation, for example. Although a victim may allege a hate crime has occurred, or a prosecutor may pursue a conviction for an alleged hate crime, this is by no means a guarantee that a judge or jury will be persuaded that what occurred was not simply an ordinary crime.

Between 1991 and 2000, for example, the Department of Justice pursued only 37 prosecutions under a hate crimes law because, among other reasons, in the thousands of other cases the evidence warranting the upward adjustment of the category of crime and penalty was deemed insufficient, and a lesser crime and penalty were more likely to be prosecuted successfully.

Hate Crimes against Gay Men and Lesbians

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation are not the most frequently reported type of hate crime. Such crimes constitute about 14% of all reported hate crimes by category. However, when these crimes are violent, they tend to be particularly brutal, involving, for example, pummeling with a baseball bat, or multiple gunshot wounds, or stabbing.

Such violence may indicate that the perpetrator intends thoroughly to wipe out his victim, having targeted the gay man or lesbian for just this purpose, and for no other, and may suggest that the gay and lesbian community itself is slated for eradication.

Gordon Babst

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Bell, Jeanine. Policing Hatred: Law Enforcement, Civil Rights, and Hate Crimes. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

Comstock, Gary David. Violence against Lesbians and Gay Men. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Espejo, Roman, ed. What Is A Hate Crime? San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven, 2002.

Jacobs, James B., and Kimberly Potter. Hate Crimes: Criminal Law & Identity Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Levin, Jack, and Jack McDevitt. Hate Crimes: The Rising Tide of Bigotry and Bloodshed. New York: Plenum, 1993.

"Obama's White House Remarks on Hate Crimes." (October 29, 2009):

Perry, Barbara. In the Name of Hate: Understanding Hate Crimes. New York: Routledge, 2001.


    Citation Information
    Author: Babst, Gordon  
    Entry Title: Hate Crimes  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated October 29, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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