Hate Crimes the Definition Term Paper

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Hate Crimes

The definition of a hate crime, according to the United States Department of Justice (Office of Justice Programs), is a crime in which the offender is "…motivated by specific characteristics of the victim, including the victim's race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation" (OJP.usdoj.gov). The hate crime might be a crime against property, or a violent act against an individual, but in most cases the perpetrator shows evidence that "hate [against the race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation of a person] prompted" his or her actions (OJP.usdoj.gov).

Hate Crime Statistics

The Office of Justice Programs reports that only 44% of hate crimes in the U.S. are actually reported to the police, and more than 80% of hate crimes are associated with violent crimes (such as rape or sexual assault, robbery or assault). Between the years 2000 and 2003, an estimated 191,000 hate crime incidents were reported by victims of those crimes. About 3% of "all violent crimes" are perceived as hate crimes by the victims; and about 50% of hate crimes in 2009 were apparently due to hatred of a certain race. In 2009, there were 6,604 hate crimes reported in the U.S., and 1,700 were said to involve not violence but "intimidation" (OJP.usdoj.gov).

Motivation for Recent Hate Crimes' Legislation in the U.S.

The Office of Justice Programs Fact Sheet indicates that 45 states have statutes related to hate crimes; those 45 laws of course different in what groups are protected, what crimes are considered hate crimes, and what penalties are meted out for perpetrators (OJP, 2011). In some states there are "task forces" that work to coordinate and obtain data between government and citizen groups and community organizations. The Hate Crimes and Statistics Act of 1990 gave the Department of Justice the responsibility to "collect hate crime data"; moreover, creating a special crime category for hate-related crimes showed the U.S. government and law enforcement was serious about racially-related crimes.

The 1990 Act was in response to mostly racially-related crimes. More recently, the Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd J. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; that was in response to the "brutal murders of Matthew Shepard and James A. Byrd" (OJP, 2011). Twenty-one-year-old Shepherd, a gay college student, was "…kidnapped, robbed and pistol-whipped" and tied to a fence in Wyoming for 18 hours in sub-freezing weather (Brooke, 1998). He passed away five days after being rescued. The incident shocked the nation and President Bill Clinton along with Congress acted to write and pass legislation that addressed the issue of sexual orientation.

The New York Times' article (Brooke, p. 1) noted that in 1996, twenty-one men and women were killed in the U.S. due to the fact that they were gay or lesbian, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Brooke writes that according to the FBI, "sexual orientation was a factor in 11.6% of the 8,759 hate crimes in 1996. However, conservative Christian groups disapprove of federal hate crimes laws because they believe such laws "…curtail freedom of speech" (Brooke, p. 3).

"Hate crimes laws have nothing to do with perpetrators of violent crime and everything to do with silencing political opposition," according to Steven A. Schwalm, who is an analyst with the Family Research Council, a conservative group in Washington, D.C. that says it is dedicated to "…faith, family and freedom" (Brooke, p. 3). Because conservative Christians generally oppose gay marriage and gay rights in general, it is not surprising that the Family Research Council would oppose any legislation that appeared to favor or protect gays and lesbians.

Such a law -- which of course has already passed -- Schwalm said at the time the legislation was being considered would "…criminalize pro-family beliefs… [and] basically sends a message that you can't disagree with the political message of homosexual activists" (Brooke, p. 3). Some conservative Christians, like John Paulk, believe that instead of laws against hate crimes perpetrated against gays, that by using religion, gays can "overcome" their sexuality. "We have every right to speak out against an agenda that is contrary to Biblical norms," said Paulk.

As to the freedom of speech issue that Schwalm raised, Brian Levin, a professor in the criminal justice department at Stockton College in New Jersey, said that a review of the 40 states that at that time (1998) had enacted hate crime legislation showed none had "impinged on freedom of speech" (Brooke, p. 3). Levin also said that gay people suffer "…higher rates of violent crime than the population at large… [and that] roughly half of the people who attack homosexuals are male, age 22 or under" (Brooke, p. 3). With most crimes, "violence is a means to an end," Levin explains; but with hate crimes, "the violence becomes an unstoppable goal" (Brooke, p. 3).

The other hate crime that shocked the nation and was influential in getting Washington D.C. To update the hate crimes laws in federal legislation was the unconscionable killing of African-American James Byrd, Jr. In Jasper Texas. In 1998 Byrd was beaten and dragged to death "down a three-mile stretch of country road simply because he was black" (Associated Press, 2008). Three white men beat the 49-year-old Byrd, chained him by the ankles to the bumper of a Ford pickup truck, then drove the truck down Huff Creek Road" in the pre-dawn hours of June 7, 1998.

Sickeningly, Byrd's body parts were strewn and scattered in seventy-five places; "…his head and right arm were discovered about a mile from his mangled torso," AP reports. The legacy of that heinous hate crime is still apparent in Jasper, according to the AP, because there are people who are "…still afraid to visit Jasper." However, the perpetrators were brought to trial and convicted -- and the two of them, John William King and Lawrence Russell Brewer are on death row (AP). After the tension lessoned a bit, the priest of St. Michael's Parish in Jasper said, "this was a mother who lost her son in the most cruel way, yet she showed and taught her family by her example that she is able to forgive" (AP).

The family of James Byrd have created the James Byrd Jr. Foundation for Racial Healing, which offers "workshops, awards scholarship to minorities" and helped to push politicians in Texas to pass the state's hate crime bill (AP). Sadly, a few years after Byrd's body parts were buried, his gravesite was "vandalized and defaced with slurs"; Byrd's sister, Betty Byrd Boatner, said, "We're getting there, but it just takes time" (AP, p. 2).

In October, 2009, in his first year in office, President Barack Obama signed expanded hate crime legislation into law at a "packed White House ceremony" which was an extension to existing hate crimes legislation. It was hailed as "the first major gay rights legislation"; during the George W. Bush Administration President Bush promised to veto the bill, based largely on objections from conservative Christians, a group that helped elect Bush. But Obama signed it and stated that the efforts of family members of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd should be given credit for their continuing pursuit of the legislation which will perhaps deter future hideously unjust criminal acts against people.

In arguing for the passage of the House of Representatives bill called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1343) in December, 2001, Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin pointed out one of the arguments against hate crimes legislation. "It has been argued that we cannot see into a criminal's heart or mind," Baldwin spoke before the assembled House Members (Congressional Record, 2001). It has been said "…that we cannot determine their motive and intend, and therefore, cannot dole out appropriate justice. Yet, the most ancient concepts of justice still with us today consider the intent of those perpetrating a crime" (Congressional Record).

She went on, suggesting that understanding "intent of a man or woman who kills or maims because of their hatred of an entire group, class, or race of people" is pivotal in determining the cause, and should be taken into consideration (Congressional Record).

In that same issue of the Congressional Record (December 5, 2001), Congressman James McGovern from Massachusetts pointed out that since September 11 of that year, "hate crimes against Muslim and Arab-Americans and immigrants have increased all over the country." McGovern cited "More than 1,200 cases of hate-motivated attacks or assault against members of the Muslim and Arab communities have been documented." The Congressman went on to assert that "…bias, bigotry, scapegoating, prejudice, discrimination, and hateful persecution have no place in American society." McGovern quoted Dr. Martin Luther King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (Congressional Record).

McGovern asserted that hate-motivated crimes do not just have a negative effect on families and individuals; also, they "…permanently scar entire communities" and hence, "only by recognizing and combating these crimes can we all begin to eradicate the bias and bigotry" in American society (Congressional Record).

History of Legislation -- Literature on Hate Crime

According to the "Study… [end of preview; READ MORE]

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