We must send a clear and strong message to all who would commit crimes of hate: it is wrong, it is illegal, and we will catch you and punish you to the full force of our laws. Al Gore
A hate crime (or a bias crime) is a crime committed against a person that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s prejudice against
- a race
- a religion
- a sexual orientation
- an ethnicity or national origin.
Hate crimes are traditional offenses such as murder, harassment, rape, violent assault, vandalism, arson etc. but they are motivated by the offenders’ bias.
Hate crime statistics
This FBI statistic shows the distribution over the different types of hate crime in the U.S. in 2004:
In 2004, these percentages cover 7.649 incidents involving 9.035 offenses directed at 9.528 victims. Of course, this covers the US only. About 30% of the offenses involved the crime of intimidation, another 30% assaults, and 35% crimes against property (vandalism etc.). Most of the anti-race crimes were anti-black. Most of the anti-religious crimes were anti-Jewish. Most of the crimes based on sexual prejudice where anti-male homosexual. The anti-ethnicity crimes were mostly anti-Hispanic. Most offenders were white. In 2006 the data were very similar.
After 9-11 there was a sudden increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes, but this was a very temporary phenomenon:
These are the numbers in the U.K.:
Nationally, in 2006-07, police reported 5,619 hate crimes in which someone was injured, 4,350 hate crimes without injury, and 28,485 cases of racially or religiously motivated harassment. There were also 3,565 cases of criminal damage related to hate crimes. The typical hate offender is a young white male (most homophobic offenders are aged 16-20, and most race hate offenders under 30). (source)
Data on the rest of the world are difficult to come by.
Official crime statistics always understate the true extent of criminal behavior. And in the case of hate crime it is reasonable to state that many hate crimes are not counted separately but disappear in the global crime statistics, because the policeman or woman who records the crime may not be aware of the motivation or may not care.
Hate crime legislation
There is some controversy over the necessity of specific hate crime laws, as most of the actions concerned, if not all, are already illegal under normal law.
In the United States most states have laws that impose extra punishment for crimes that are motivated by hate, in excess of the usual punishment for the same crimes when motivated by other reasons. (source)
Whereas the intention of the criminal has for centuries been a factor in establishing the degree of the punishment, hate crime laws are often seen as punishment of ideas, as an example of the “thought police”. Proponents argue that hate crimes hurt the victims more than the same crimes committed for other reasons because they stigmatize people and erode their self-esteem. Furthermore, hate crimes not only hurt the immediate victims but also other people in the same group because they create a climate of fear. One can even claim that they harm the very fabric of a free and diverse society.
Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights outlaws hate crime:
Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
There is also some controversy over whether incitement to hatred should also be called a hate crime. Contrary to the offenses described above, speech as such is not a crime, even speech expressing or inciting hatred. Speech is protected by the right to free speech. However, this right, like many human rights, is not absolute and can be limited when it endangers other human rights (like the right to life and bodily integrity). It’s a thin line between hateful words and hateful actions. Impressionable people can be led to violent crimes by hate speech.
Examples of speech, in the wide sense of the word, such as hanging a noose in a tree in the front yard of the house of an African-American family, or spraying graffiti on someone’s car or house, is obviously more of a problem than posting a picture of a Koran in the toilet on a blog or a website. The first examples are clearly intimidation and can force people to sell their houses and move somewhere else. This has human rights implications (freedom of residence and property rights), which the latter examples don’t have (it’s difficult to argue that a photo of the Koran in a toilet, although undoubtedly an expression of hatred, harms anyone’s freedom of religion).
Some also call Islamic terrorism a hate crime. Hate and prejudices are certainly motivations behind many terrorist attacks. Examples from history are lynching, cross burning (intimidation), the medieval witch hunt, the many genocides, the Roman persecution of Christians…