Crime Overview Hate Crimes

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As reported by the FBI, in 2007, 2,025 law enforcement agencies reported 7,624 hate crime incidents involving 9,006 offenses.

Hate crimes are defined federally as a criminal offense committed against a person or property motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, ethnicity or national origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability. These biases have established protected groups of people. Sadly, crimes of hate and prejudice are a part of American history, but the term 'hate crime' did not enter the nation's vocabulary until the 1980s. This was due to emerging hate groups like the Skinheads.

A hate crime can be charged even if the accused person was incorrect in their association with the victim to one of the protected classes. For example, if the accused vandalized the home of someone they perceived to be Jewish by painting a swastika on it, even though the victim was not in fact Jewish, a hate crime has still occurred.

Hate crimes are different from other crimes because they are not directed at a specific individual, but symbolize instead an attack on an entire group or class of people. Hate crimes are meant to create fear and intimidation. Statistics show that most crimes are committed by people who are known to the victims. However, in hate crimes, the accused and the victim are more likely to be strangers, with the accused believing that the victim belongs to a particular group.

Hate crimes in the United States are tracked by the Justice Department through the Hate Crime Statistics Act. Therefore, much is known about the types of crimes committed, and the groups most often attacked. Hate crimes are most often a result of a racial bias, followed by religious bias, sexual orientation bias, and ethnicity bias. The least reported type of bias was towards the disabled. The highest frequency of all racial bias was anti-black. However, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, anti-Islamic crimes have been on the rise.

While the federal government has enacted hate laws, these only apply when the victim is engaged in a federally protected activity. A large majority of the states also have hate crime laws. Over half of the states have also given victims a legal right to pursue a civil case.

Violations against hate laws are often charged in addition to the underlying crime. For example, if an assault occurred because of the racial bias towards the victim, the accused would be charged with assault, and additionally for the hate crime. If it can be proven that the motivation for the assault was racial bias, the penalties for the offender will be greater than if no bias is discovered. This increase in sentencing for the underlying crime is intended to deter crimes that are the most destructive to the pubic safety through inciting public unrest such as riots, or through the provocation of retaliatory crimes.