A hate crime is a crime committed against a person, property, or community that is motivated in whole or in part by prejudice or bias against the victim or the victim’s family, friends, or associates or against a class or group of persons.
“Hate” as a specific emotion is not an element of state or federal statutes defining hate crimes. Rather, it is the perpetrator’s prejudicial motive or bias that distinguishes this crime from other crimes. Victims of hate crimes are singled out simply because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibility, physical handicap, or political affiliation.
The elements of a hate crime are:
- There must be an underlying criminal act.
- The motivation for the crime must be hate or bias towards a particular class or group defined by such characteristics as race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, or national origin.
- The perpetrator must have selected the victim of the crime based on a perception or belief that the victim or the victim’s family, friends, or associates belong to that group or class.
Examples of hate crimes include:
- Physical attacks
- Destruction of property
- Cross burnings
- Painting hate symbols such as swastikas
- Cemetery desecration
- Firebombing of residences, churches, or businesses
Hate Crimes Are Against the Law
Arizona – In Arizona, crimes motivated by bias against the victim are not generally defined as separate crimes. Rather, a defendant’s bias or prejudice is a factor to be considered at the time of sentencing. Every crime defined under Arizona law has an assigned sentencing range, from the minimum possible (“mitigated term”) up to the highest possible (“aggravated term”). In the absence of any mitigating or aggravating factors, a sentencing judge must impose the presumptive sentence, which lies between the mitigated and aggravated terms. Evidence that a crime was committed because of the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, or disability, or the defendant’s perception of those characteristics, is an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes (A.R.S. § 13-701(D)(15)). This means that the sentencing judge must consider such evidence in determining the appropriate sentence and may impose a sentence greater than the presumptive sentence.
Federal – With the enactment of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (commonly known as the Shepard-Byrd Act) in 2009, federal law enforcement agencies have several tools to combat hate crimes.
Shepard-Byrd Act (18 U.S.C. §249): This legislation makes it a crime to commit or attempt to commit a violent act using a dangerous weapon when the act is motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person.
This statute broadened the reach of existing federal hate crime laws by expanding the definition of a hate crime to include crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. § 3631): This statute prohibits the use of force or threats to injure, intimidate, or interfere with others’ housing-related activity based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, and national origin. It prohibits interfering or attempting to interfere with enumerated housing rights such as selling, renting, purchasing, or occupying a dwelling. It also prohibits bias-motivated acts intended to interfere with those who are assisting others in selling, renting, purchasing, or occupying a dwelling.
Interference with Federally Protected Activities (18 U.S.C. § 245): This statute prohibits using or threatening to use force to interfere with various enumerated activities of any person or class of persons because of race, color, religion, or national origin. Activities covered in the statute include voting, qualifying to vote, attending public school, enjoying any state-provided facility or activity, working or seeking public or private employment, serving as a juror, using a facility of interstate commerce, and enjoying any public accommodation.
Damage to Religious Property; Obstruction of Persons in the Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs (18 U.S.C. § 247): This statute prohibits the intentional, actual or attempted defacing, damaging, or destroying of any religious property because of the religious character of that property. It also prohibits using force or threat of force to obstruct or attempt to obstruct any person’s free exercise of religious beliefs.
Conspiracy against Rights (18 U.S.C. § 241): This statute prohibits two or more persons from conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Why Hate Crimes Should Be Reported
Persons who commit these crimes can only be brought to justice and held accountable if the crime is reported. In addition, collecting accurate data on the number of such crimes is essential to permit police, prosecutors, elected officials, and community organizations to determine the full extent of the problem and respond.
Frequently Asked Questions
But aren’t all crimes hate crimes?
This is a common misperception. It arises from a misunderstanding of what the term “hate” means in this context. Because “hate” can also mean an attitude of intense dislike or anger directed at another person, some people erroneously think of hate crimes as those motivated by anger or passion. Perhaps a more descriptive or precise term for these criminal offenses is “bias crimes,” because the motivation for the crime is a general bias or prejudice against an entire group of people, rather than the hatred of a specific person. In this sense, a hate crime (or bias crime) is an attack not only against an individual, but also against an entire identity, class, or community of people. Through his or her criminal acts, the perpetrator tries to send a message that devalues or dehumanizes the entire group.
Can someone be a victim of a hate crime even if they don’t belong to a protected class?
Yes. Although it is uncommon, sometimes hate crimes are perpetrated against someone because they appear or are erroneously believed to belong to a protected class. Because criminal acts are based on the offender’s perception that the victim belongs to a specific class, the hate crime can occur even if the victim doesn’t actually belong to that group. A tragic example of this occurred in the Phoenix area after September 11, 2001, when a brutal hate-crime murder was carried out against a man the perpetrator perceived to be a Muslim, even though the victim was in fact a Sikh, an entirely different religion.
Is every act of bias directed at a particular group of people a hate crime?
No. For an act to be labeled a hate crime, there must be an underlying criminal offense, such as an assault or vandalism, for example. Although hate speech by itself is ugly and offensive and has no place in civil discourse, it is nonetheless protected freedom of speech in the United States. Consequently, slurs and insults that are based on bias and hatred toward a specific class or group of people are commonly referred to as “hate incidents” or “bias incidents” rather than hate crimes. Nonetheless, these words can inflict emotional harm and leave community members feeling singled-out, vulnerable, hurt, and angry. For victims of such incidents, there are community groups that can provide support.
Who commits hate crimes?
The common image of a perpetrator of hate crimes is a skinhead or neo-Nazi. The reality is that these “mission” hate groups account for barely 1% of all hate crimes. Most hate crimes are committed by ordinary citizens who may have no prior criminal history. Hate or bias crimes are typically carried out by young men who either seek peer recognition and acceptance through acts of violence or who seek to avenge a real or perceived threat against something to which they feel entitled, such as their job, status, turf, girlfriend, etc.
How common are hate crimes?
It is very difficult to get an accurate count of the number of hate crimes. Hate crimes are notoriously underreported for a variety of reasons, including the fact that many victims are fearful of reporting the crime or the motivation for the crime to law enforcement. Also, some law enforcement officers may not be adequately trained to recognize hate crimes or to report them appropriately.
Conservative estimates from the FBI, based on actual law enforcement reports, place the number of hate crimes committed in 2010 as follows:
|Bias Type||U.S. (2011)||Arizona (2011)|
|Racial||2917 (47%)||80 (42%)|
|Sexual Orientation||1293 (21%)||35 (18%)|
|Religious||1233 (20%)||35 (18%)|
|Ethnic / National Origin||720 (11%)||41 (21%)|
|Disability||53 (<1%)||1 (<1%)|
However, given the problem with underreporting, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has developed other methodology, including victim surveys, for assessing the magnitude of the problem. The Bureau’s report for the period from 2003 to 2009 found that there were 179,300 hate crime incidents annually, affecting 194,800 victims each year. Roughly 3% of all violent crimes were hate crimes. But of these incidents, less than half were reported to law enforcement. Most of the incidents (86%) involved violent crimes, and about 1/3 of the incidents involved a major violent crime in which the victim was injured or threatened with a weapon.