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Hate crime laws in the United States protect against hate crimes (also known as bias crimes) motivated by enmity or animus against a protected class. Although state laws vary, current statutes permit federal prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of a person's protected characteristics of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)/FBI, as well as campus security authorities, are required to collect and publish hate crime statistics.
|This article may contain inappropriate or misinterpreted citations that do not verify the text. (October 2008)|
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 enacted 18 U.S.C. § 245(b)(2), which permits federal prosecution of anyone who "willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another person, or attempts to do so, by force because of the other person's race, color, religion or national origin"  because of the victim's attempt to engage in one of six types of federally protected activities, such as attending school, patronizing a public place/facility, applying for employment, acting as a juror in a state court or voting.
Persons violating this law face a fine or imprisonment of up to one year, or both. If bodily injury results or if such acts of intimidation involve the use of firearms, explosives or fire, individuals can receive prison terms of up to 10 years, while crimes involving kidnapping, sexual assault, or murder can be punishable by life in prison or the death penalty. U.S. District Courts provide for criminal sanctions only. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 contained a provision at 42 U.S.C. § 13981 which allowed victims of gender-motivated hate crimes to seek "compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, and such other relief as a court may deem appropriate", but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Morrison that the provision is unconstitutional.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, enacted in 28 U.S.C. § 994 note Sec. 280003, requires the United States Sentencing Commission to increase the penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or gender of any person. In 1995, the Sentencing Commission implemented these guidelines, which only apply to federal crimes.
On October 28, 2009 President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, attached to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, which expanded existing United States federal hate crime law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and dropped the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity.
45 states and the District of Columbia have statutes criminalizing various types of bias-motivated violence or intimidation (the exceptions are Arkansas, Georgia, whose hate crime statute was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2004, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming). Each of these statutes covers bias on the basis of race, religion, and ethnicity; 32 cover disability; 31 of them cover sexual orientation; 28 cover gender; 16 cover transgender/gender-identity; 13 cover age; 5 cover political affiliation. and 3 along with Washington, D.C. cover homelessness.
27 states and the District of Columbia have statutes requiring the state to collect hate crime statistics; 16 of these cover sexual orientation.
3 states and the District of Columbia cover homelessness.
The Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 28 U.S.C. § 534,  requires the Attorney General to collect data on crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The bill was signed into law in 1990 by George H. W. Bush, and was the first federal statute to "recognize and name gay, lesbian and bisexual people." Since 1992, the Department of Justice and the FBI have jointly published an annual report on hate crime statistics.
In 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act expanded the scope to include crimes based on disability, and the FBI began collecting data on disability bias crimes on January 1, 1997. In 1996, Congress permanently reauthorized the Act.
The Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act of 1997 enacted 20 U.S.C. § 1092(f)(1)(F)(ii), which requires campus security authorities to collect and report data on hate crimes committed on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability. This bill was brought to the forefront by Senator Robert Terricelli.
The DOJ and the FBI have gathered statistics on hate crimes reported to law enforcement since 1992 in accordance with the Hate Crime Statistics Act. The FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division has annually published these statistics as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting program. According to these reports, of the over 113,000 hate crimes since 1991, 55% were motivated by racial bias, 17% by religious bias, 14% sexual orientation bias, 14% ethnicity bias, and 1% disability bias.
Notes: The term victim may refer to a person, business, institution, or society as a whole. Though the FBI has collected UCR data since 1992, reports from 1992-1994 are not available on the FBI website. Single-bias victim totals have been calculated for 1995-1998.
|Offense type||Hate Crimes||All US Crimes|
|Murder and non-negligent manslaughter||7||16,272|
|Motor vehicle theft||26||956,846|
Florida, Maine, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. have hate crime laws that include the homeless status of an individual.
A 2007 study found that the number of violent crimes against the homeless is increasing. The rate of such documented crimes in 2005 was 30% higher than of those in 1999. 75% of all perpetrators are under the age of 25. Studies and surveys indicate that homeless people have a much higher criminal victimization rate than the non-homeless, but that most incidents never get reported to authorities.
In recent years, largely due to the efforts of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and academic researchers the problem of violence against the homeless has gained national attention. The NCH called deliberate attacks against the homeless hate crimes in their report Hate, Violence, and Death on Mainstreet USA (they retain the definition of the American Congress).
The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino in conjunction with the NCH found that 155 homeless people were killed by non-homeless people in "hate killings", while 76 people were killed in all the other traditional hate crime homicide categories such as race and religion, combined. The CSHE contends that negative and degrading portrayals of the homeless contribute to a climate where violence takes place.
Penalty-enhancement hate crime laws are traditionally justified on the grounds that, in Chief Justice Rehnquist's words, "this conduct is thought to inflict greater individual and societal harm.... bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest."
Some people object to penalty-enhancement and federal prosecution laws because they believe they offer preferred protection to certain individuals over others. There is less opposition to data collection statutes.
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Donald Altschiller, librarian at Boston University, asserts that hate crimes against Caucasians are hate crimes as much as any other. "Hate crime laws are colorblind", he states. Although there are fewer hate crimes directed against Caucasians than against other groups, they do occur and are prosecuted. In fact, the case in which the Supreme Court upheld hate crimes legislation against First Amendment attack, Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 476 (1993), involved a white victim. Hate crime statistics published in 2002, gathered by the FBI under the auspices of the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, documented over 7,000 hate crime incidents, in roughly one-fifth of which the victims were white people. However, these statistics have caused dispute. The FBI's hate crimes statistics for 1993, which similarly reported 20% of all hate crimes to be committed against white people, prompted Jill Tregor, executive director of Intergroup Clearinghouse, to decry it as "an abuse of what the hate crime laws were intended to cover", stating that the white victims of these crimes were employing hate crime laws as a means to further penalize minorities.
James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter note that white people, including those who may be sympathetic to the plight of those who are victims of hate crimes by white people, bristle at the notion that hate crimes against whites are somehow inferior to, and less worthy than, hate crimes against other groups. They observe that while, as stated by Altschiller, no hate crime law makes any such distinction, the proposition has been argued by "a number of writers in prominent publications", who have advocated the removal of hate crimes against whites from the category of hate crime, on the grounds that hate crime laws, in their view, are intended to be affirmative action for "protected groups". Jacobs and Potter firmly assert that such a move is "fraught with potential for social conflict and constitutional concerns."
Analysis of the 1999 FBI statistics by John Perazzo in 2001 found that white violence against black people was 28 times more likely (1 in 45 incidents) to be labelled as a hate crime than black violence against white people (1 in 1254 incidents). In analysing hate crime hoaxes, Katheryn Russell-Brown propounds a hypothesis explaining the disparity in how hate crimes against whites are viewed with respect to hate crimes against blacks. She hypothesises that the prevailing view in the minds of the public, that hate-crimes-against-blacks hoaxers intend to take advantage of, is that the crime that whites are most likely to commit against blacks is a hate crime, and that it is hard for (in her words) "most of us" to envision a white person committing a crime against a black person for a different reason. The only white people who commit crimes against black people, goes the public belief, are racially prejudiced white extremists. Whereas in contrast, she continues, the situation with hate-crimes-against-whites hoaxers differs, because the popular perception is that black people in general are liable to "run amok, committing depraved, unprovoked acts of violence" against white people.
P. J. Henry and Felicia Pratto assert that while certain hate crimes (that they do not specify) against white people are a valid category, that one can "speak sensibly of", and that while such crimes may be the result of racial prejudice, (and therefore if that is the case, they are squarely covered by hate crime legislation intent for prosecution), in a limited definition of the word, they assert do not constitute actual racism per se, because a hate crime against a member of a group that is superior in the alleged and dated power hierarchy by a member of one that is inferior, they believe may not be racist. The concept of racism as understood by a limited number of social scientists and some others, they allege, requires as a fundamental element a superior-to-inferior group-based power relationship, which a hate crime against white people they believe does not have. However, other social scientists who define racism in a broader sense realize "whites" have over the many centuries, and often do experience discrimination and segregation from their "non white" human cousins, because of their actually or perceived race. And since the components of discrimination and segregation exist within an academic definition of racism, "whites" have been, and many times are victims of racism. Current prison culture in America is a classic example of such discrimination and segregation, as whole groups, and different "races" are discriminated against and segregated based on such, with "whites" receiving more harsh treatment because of their perceived race and/or minority status in prison.
Not all social scientists agree or affirm the opinion/supposition that racism litmus tests should be based on a group-based power relationships that include thousands of individuals over hundreds of years, rather they affirm they should be taken on a more individual case by case basis. Many social scientists agree that this is the most comprehensive and sensible way to determine whether racism is truly a motivating factor when the victim is white and the perpetrator is black. "Whites" are legally protected by hate crimes laws both within the laws themselves, and within the constitution's requirement they receive equal protection of the laws. Therefore, it's a moot point to determine if racism is a factor in the case of "black" on "white" crime for prosecution, since racism alone is not the only factor needed for prosecution. What is relevant to determine prosecution for a hate crime is whether any race or some other "protected characteristic" not "protected groups" was a factor in why a person targeted that/those individual/s to be their victim. e.g. If a "black" person targets a "white" person to be their victim simply because of his/her race or perceived race, whatever their accompanying rationale, they would be subject to hate crime prosecution. However, it's not without merit to determine their rationale, because it's within their rationale that one may verify if a true hate crime has been committed. This is why hate crimes are difficult to prosecute, because they essentially involve prosecuting thoughts rather than physical crimes, which are easier to prove. Evidence does show that in the current culture and climate many black men and women feel superior to whites, and a crime committed by such an individual with said mindset against a white person could clearly have been be motivated by racism. Therefore, this individual approach has been preferred over a blanket broad brush approach of past perceived ancestral sufferings and feelings of inferiority and/or superiority of groups that encompass thousands of individuals over hundreds of years.