Lifeless bodies with slashed throats were found in the mountains of Virginia nearly six years ago. This is quite a disturbing image; the unfortunate result of a hate crime. What exactly is a hate crime? The American Psychological Association defines hate crimes as “violent acts against people, property, or organizations because of the group to which they belong or identify with” (1). The different groups usually involved include homosexuals, ethnic groups, and religion affiliations.
Dr. Jack McDevitt, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, said hate crimes are forms of messages the offender wants to send to members of certain groups letting them know they are unwelcome in that neighborhood, community, school or workplace (APA, 1).
According to CNN.com, Darrell David Rice of Columbia, Maryland, was found guilty of committing the 1996 slayings of hikers Julianne Marie Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans, who were the girls in the opening disturbing image. Rice is serving an 11-year sentence in federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia, for attempting to abduct and kill a female bicyclist in the same park in 1997. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft called the killings of Williams and Winans “hate crimes” and said Rice could also receive the death penalty, in addition to the present sentence (Frieden, 1).
Examples of hate crimes provided by Stephen Wessler’s “Addressing Hate Crimes: Six Initiatives” include (3):
·the dragging death of African-American James Byrd, Jr., in Jasper, Texas
·the deadly attack on Matthew Sheppard, a gay student in Laramie, Wyoming
·the shooting rampage targeting minority citizens in Chicago
·the shootings of children at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles
·the murder of Joseph Santos Ileto, a Filipino-American mail carrier
A report done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) states that 7,947 hate crime incidents were reported. In 1995, a comparison of states showed that California was at the top of the charts with 1,751 incidents reported, and Florida stood with 164 incidents (2). The total number of hate crimes only decreased by less than a hundred between 1995 and 1999. While these numbers may seem relatively small, the Southern Poverty Law Center has posted more dramatic statistics: every hour someone commits a hate crime, every day eight blacks, three whites, three gays, three Jews and one Latino become hate crime victims, and every week a cross is burned (1).
In order to prevent the hate crimes from occurring, different things are being done in order to prevent and deal with the hate crimes. In schools, the Anti-Defamation League websites suggests planning ahead by doing the following (1):
1.Work with your school administration to establish a plan for responding promptly to hate incidents and hate crimes.
2.Educate school staff on how to recognize hate-motivated incidents and hate crimes.
3.Establish procedures for reporting hate-motivated incidents/crimes.
4.Establish school policies which clearly indicate that hate-motivated behavior will not be tolerated.
On a wider scale, since the 1980s research on hate crimes has increased, especially from those in the fields of criminology and law enforcement. There focus is primarily on reporting the frequency of the problem and preparing criminal justice responses to it. While many hate motivated crimes go unreported, the number of reported incidents is up. However, with special training, people are prepared to deal with the situations.
According to Wessler, the first professionals to respond to the scene of a hate crime are police officers. How they act in the situation will affect the outcome of the incident. Wessler stated, “law enforcement agencies have a pivotal role in responding to, investigating, prosecuting, and preventing hate crimes.” Training is given to the police officers in order to carry out their role. Wessler said the training includes how to “recognize and investigate potential hate crimes, have clear protocols on how to respond to hate violence, and develop innovative programs for preventing the hate crimes.”
Along with the professional training of police personnel, laws against hate crimes have been enforced in some states. As of 1999, there are only eleven states that do not have hate crime laws: South Carolina, Hawaii, Wyoming, New York, Kentucky, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Kansas, Arkansas, Georgia and Indiana. The anti-hate laws may not be well known but there are some out there. For example, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act “provides assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies and amend federal law to streamline the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.” This bill will change the already existing law, adding crimes against sexual orientation, gender, and disability. This law also allows authority to respond to all crimes covered by the existing law, meaning crimes based on race, color, national origin, and religion (1).
The number of hate crimes is slowly being decreased and the number of laws against hate crimes is slowly being increased, but the truth is, they are still out there. It may seem impossible to eliminate all the hate crimes that are occuring, but with more research, training, and handling each situation as they arise more seriously, America is slowly on it’s way to eliminating the problem of hate crimes.
American Psychological Association. 1998.
Anti-Defamation League. 1999.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. Uniform Crime Reports. 1995.
Frieden, Terry. 10 Apr. 2002.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. NGLTF Communications Department. 25 Sep. 2002.
Southern Poverty Law Center.
Wessler, Stephen. Addressing Hate Crimes: Six Initiatives That Are Enhancing the Efforts of Criminal Justice Practitioners. Feb. 2000.