On October 6, 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was beaten, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but succumbed to his severe injuries 6 days later. A young man, who still had his whole life ahead of him, lost the chance to experience it because he was gay. Hate crimes, such as this case, still happen today and at an increasing rate, according to the statistics gathered by the U.S Department of Justice. A hate crime is a criminal offense against a person or property motivated by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. Harsher punishments must accompany hate crimes because of their unique characteristics such as the impact it has on the American society, their high possibility of recidivism, and the immense amount of psychological trauma these cases can create. Although individuals are free to believe in what they want, there is a limit to how much an individual can practice it. Hate crimes attack the very base of American society, built on freedom and equality. This is where the line must be drawn.
It is America’s job to ensure that freedom and equality is available to everyone without the oppression of any individuals who think otherwise. Hate crime offenders practice their beliefs to the point that their actions are no longer safe on the individuals against their views. As with any case under the American law, crimes become hate crimes if, and only if, there is sufficient evidence that the motive was a bias against the victim. For example, the Shepard case involved a witness, an attacker’s girlfriend, which stated that the suspect’s actions were triggered by “how he felt about gays.” The trials resulted in both suspects receiving an additional life sentence due to the hate crime evidence. Another famous case is the Zimmerman case which involved a Hispanic man who shot, and ultimately killed, an African-American teenager because he thought the teenager was suspicious. Although the majority of the public believed it was due to the teenager’s skin color, the Zimmerman case was not labeled a hate crime due to the insufficient amount of evidence, and Zimmerman was later acquitted by the jury.
Those harsher punishments allow hate crimes to be feared, thus, stopping the problem before it happens. Whether labeled as a hate crime or not, cases like these taint the American image of freedom and equality. Hate crimes have a much higher recidivism rate than unbiased crimes, such as burglary, because it is a more deep-rooted hatred in which cannot be eased with just the death or injury of just one person, but rather, the group as a whole. Recidivism is the legal term for the tendency of a criminal to relapse into the same behavior that individual was convicted for in the past. This makes the group or community much more afraid than if it was a crime of hatred towards a specific person. The fact is, hate crimes involve a much bigger set of victims. Everyone in that specific group could have been a target and would still be a target. These cases don’t just involve the victim in question, nor their family members, but, rather, a whole community.
Hate crimes are different from other crimes since the offender sends, whether directly or indirectly, a message to the members of that group that they are unwelcome and unsafe in that particular neighborhood, school, or other environment. Based on the studies observed by the American Psychological Association, the targeted communities often lose their sense of security and safety, This leads to depression and low self-esteem in the members of that group. If the law puts the suspects back onto the streets without any attention on their motive against the race or sexual orientation of the victim, that specific group will feel unsafe due to the fact the motive did not matter at all in the trial.
It is absolutely necessary to add the harsher punishment in order to, at least, ease the minds of the targeted community and to show that the motive against that community does matter. Hate crimes involve more than just a traditional act of violence. They involve a whole community and a whole society. Hate crimes affect the American image set upon freedom and equality. They are also motivated by something an individual can not control nor does any harm to the offender. The special circumstances that these crimes have need special attention, and the harsher punishments are just one of the ways to reduce the frequency of these horrid attacks.