United States

What is a Hate Crime?

A “hate crime” is a crime committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. The actions considered criminal are using force or threat of force to willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress, or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him or her by the Constitution or laws of the State or country.

While the wording may differ between states, the above is a representative definition taken from the State of California’s Hate Crime statute (Penal Code Section 422.6.)

Additionally, many states and cities have passed or are actively legislating what are known as “enhancement” laws either alone or in addition to statutes defining hate crimes. These take the form of additional (felony) charges or sentences added to criminal offenses against persons (or property) motivated by hate or bias against the victim’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

The City of Chicago adds the following view:

“While there may be many causative factors, all hate crimes have some elements in common. They have their basis in prejudice, ignorance, bias, or similar emotions. They are typically fanned by rumor, hatred, greed, misinformation, and selfishness. And, if individual incidents are not dealt with promptly, they can easily escalate in number and severity.”

Chicago Police: Hate Crime Definition

The U.S. Federal Definition

The U.S. Federal Definition of “hate crime” is crime that is motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person. (USC Title 28 Sec 994)The Department of Justice illuminates the government’s view of hate crimes:

“Hate crime is the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability. The purveyors of hate use explosives, arson, weapons, vandalism, physical violence, and verbal threats of violence to instill fear in their victims, leaving them vulnerable to more attacks and feeling alienated, helpless, suspicious and fearful. Others may become frustrated and angry if they believe the local government and other groups in the community will not protect them. When perpetrators of hate are not prosecuted as criminals and their acts not publicly condemned, their crimes can weaken even those communities with the healthiest race relations.”

Hate Crime: The Violence of Intolerance

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