A hate crime is an act of violence, a threat, harassment, or property damage motivated by bigotry and prejudice against the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of another group or individual. These acts are not only against the victim(s), but also the particular group as a whole. Hate crimes are very common and often times it is hard to tell whether or not the crime is motivated by hate. I chose this topic because I was watching a TV show call Criminal that told true stories of hate crimes. The one that got me interested was “Punks vs. Preps,” there had been an ongoing feud between the two groups, which ended in a teen losing his life. This episode showed one of the many cases of hate crimes that have plagued our nation. Watching it caused me to grow curious about how often these terrible events happened, as well as, what is being done to prevent future breakouts of hate crimes.
Many people assume that hate crime offenders are hate-filled Nazi’s or “skinheads”. But research by a clinical psychologist at the University of California shows that out of 1,459 cases in the span of a year less than 5 percent were members of a hate group (http://www.hatecrime.org). Most hate crimes are carried out by, seemingly, law-abiding young people who do not think their actions are wrong. Sometimes drugs and alcohol help initiate these crimes, but the main factor appears to be personal prejudice. Personal prejudice is what blinds a person from seeing the wrong in what they are doing. Most times this prejudice comes from an environment that sees differences as threats.
The worst hate crimes are often committed by people with a history of antisocial behavior. One of these examples took place in June of 1998 in Jasper, Texas. Three men, with jail records, offered a ride to a black man with a limp. After beating him to death, they dragged him behind their truck until his body was partially dismembered (http://hatecrime.org).
According to the FBI, about thirty percent of all hate crimes in 1996 were crimes against property. They involved robbing, vandalizing, destroying, stealing, and/or arson. Approximately seventy percent involve an attack against a person. This can range from simple assault (without a weapon) to aggravated assault, rape, and murder. This type of attack has two levels of injury, on a person’s physical self and also on a person’s identity (http://www.stopthehate.org).
Educated guesses of the presence of hate crimes in a society are difficult because each state defines and reports these crimes differently. The Hate Crime Statistics Act was enacted in 1990, but federal law enforcement officials did not begin collecting nationwide statistics until the following year. Another obstacle to gaining an accurate count of hate crimes is that many victims are afraid to report the attacks. This comes from the trauma they have experienced and fear of retaliation or future contact with the offender(s). Another reason is that it is difficult to identify a biased motive.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is often caused by hate crimes. Some symptoms are intense feelings of vulnerability, anger, and depression, learning problems, and difficulty with relationships (both physical and emotional). Studies have shown that some victims have taken as long as five years to overcome the feelings. They may heal more quickly if support is available soon after the incident (Punks vs. Preps). Hate crimes not only affect the victim himself, but they also affect the particular group the victim is from or thought to be from. When the result of the attack is serious injury or the loss of a life then it also affects the family and friends of the victim.
Racial Hatred is by far the most common type of hate crime with African Americans as the group at greatest risk. In 1996, sixty percent (4,831 of 7,947) of hate crimes were committed because of race; two-thirds of these crimes were targeting African Americans (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr). The type of crimes committed against this group has not changed since the nineteenth century; they still include murder, cross burnings, vandalizing churches, and bombings. As for the other racially motivated crimes, about twenty-five percent were against white people, seven percent against Asian Pacific Americans, less than five percent against multiracial groups, and one percent against Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.
Ethnic minorities in the United States are often targeted because they are thought to be new to the country even if their families have been here for generations. Other times they are targeted just because they are seen as different from the majority population.