Posted by: sternenfeeinflorida | 17 September 2011

A few thoughts on hate crime

By Sünje Schwarz



Hate crime is a difficult topic. Anyone can be the target and anyone can be the attacker. Legal definitions limit hate crimes to crimes committed on the basis of an individual’s race, sexual orientation, physical disability or ancestry. Regardless of which qualifying community is targeted, hate crimes have lasting effects on the community. They can instill fear, which in turn can result in a social movement protesting the very crimes committed against that community or the members could fall into a state of hopelessness and despair. A possible solution to hate crimes is to rebel against hate crime and force social change, and with it acceptance.
I. Overview

Hate crime is a complex topic that knows no easy answers. It can target anybody and anyone can be the perpetrator. Solutions are just as difficult to find as they require the involvement of the entire community.

Hate crime existed for centuries but it has become the focus of policy making only within the past thirty years (Bleich & Hart, 2008). To qualify as a hate crime, a crime has to be committed because of someone’s race, religion, sexual orientation, physical disability or ancestry (Macionis & Plummer, 2010). This means the question needs to be asked if the same crime would still have been committed even without any of these qualifying factors, making the perpetrator’s selection an intentional act (Lieberman, 2010). For example, there is a large difference of a crime committed against a black person to get his or her money and a crime committed against the same black person because that person is black.

Interestingly, although crimes against homeless certainly do occur, this social status has not been included in the legal definitions (Wachholz, 2005). In contrast, hate crime laws in Germany include crimes committed based on a person’s ideology, appearance or social status (Bleich & Hart, 2008). The desire to protect these characteristics is almost certainly the result of the genocide in the Third Reich, during which individuals could be sent to concentration camps for nothing more than their political ideologies and/or affiliations.

Hate crime can also be regarded as a crime against prejudices that are not accepted by society as a whole (Chakraborti, 2010). It is important to realize that prejudices exist in every culture and some are indeed deemed acceptable. They create boundaries between social classes for example, or determine who will get a job based on an individual’s attractiveness. Hate crime, however, is trying to protect carefully crafted boundaries in a physical, as well as a social sense (Perry, 2009).

Perhaps the most distinguishing factor of hate crime to “regular” crime is that hate crime intends to send a message to the group exhibiting the victim’s identifying characteristics (Lieberman, 2010).

II. Perpetrators and victims

Technically, everybody can become a victim of hate crime, however, race, religion and sexual orientation are the most reported forms of hate crime in the United States, while hate crimes against women do not seem to be prevalent. They are much more obvious in other parts in the world, often justified by law. If a person displays multiple qualifying characteristics, the likelihood that he or she will be a victim of hate crime is much higher (Macionis & Plummer, 2010). Often forgotten is the case of Native Americans, although their genocide and ethnocide is well documented in American history and is still a cause for great concern. For most Native Americans hate crime and hate incidents are the norm, rather than the exception (Perry, 2009).

That said men seem to be at greater risk of becoming victims of hate crime, not only in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) community but in the overall hate crime statistics and younger people feel more at risk than older individuals (Dick, 2009).

The fact that hate crime is an intentional act against a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or ancestry makes it a very personal crime. The victim is not always able to hide the characteristics that make him or her the target of hate crime (Lieberman, 2010).

While identifying the victims of a hate crime is seemingly easy, identifying the perpetrators is much more difficult. Nevertheless, statistics show most crimes, and therefore most hate crimes, are committed by young individuals who are younger than 25 years old (Dick, 2009). When thinking about hate crime in the United States, most people think about the Ku Klux Klan, although this group has actually reported declining membership numbers, while there are other groups emerging and strengthening. Hate crime is not limited to membership in supremacy groups; hate can be learned from family and friends (Anderson, Dyson, & Brooks Jr., 2002). The important part to remember is that hate crimes can be characterized by their self-serving prejudices (Key, 2006). However, hate against a specific group is rarely the cultural norm; it exists in deviant subcultures that accept violence against individuals that do not fit this subculture’s norms and values (Anderson, Dyson, & Brooks Jr., 2002). This means that hate crime is not the result of intergroup conflict. Intergroup conflict would require different group memberships for the perpetrators and law-abiding citizens. For example, if hate crime was based on intergroup conflict, perpetrator and victim could not both be of the same race. Yet, white men do not only target gay men with a different race/ethnicity but they also target white gay men (Key, 2006).

People within these subcultures learn to dehumanize those who are different and criminal behavior against these different people is accepted and sometimes glorified (Anderson, Dyson, & Brooks Jr., 2002).

III. Effects and Prevention

Hate crime usually has a lasting effect on the society it targets (Lieberman, 2010). One of the reasons for this is that the victims are almost always strangers (Dick, 2009). In addition, hate crime has a psychological effect, too. Not all hate crime results in the death of the victim and victims may be afraid of retaliation (Callanan, 2010) or they fear further discrimination from law enforcement officials (Dick, 2009). At the same time, it can make the victims feel overwhelmed, hopeless and disempowered (Perry, 2009).

Members of the LGBT community may try to hide their sexual orientation as a crime prevention measure, however not all communities have this choice and by far not everyone wants to hide part of their identity (Dick, 2009).

But perhaps the greatest effect of hate crime on society as a whole is the resulting segregation. Once again, this is most obvious in Native American reservations, which are not only the direct outcome of violence committed against them but are a very visible and real boundary, enforced by police (Perry, 2009). Not as clear but still existent is the large black population in inner cities, which could constitute another type of segregation (Macionis & Plummer, 2010). This residential segregation ensures economic segregation as well, especially for Native Americans. Keeping them on reservations, where they feel safe, also limits their ability for economic success and upward social mobility (Perry, 2009).

Preventing and solving the problem of hate crime is not an easy task. It is important that the affected communities stand up for their rights and create new social movements. Society as a whole needs to be shaken up, so it is open to re-define and re-construct itself. The desired result would be that difference is not seen as something inferior but as something that is just not the same (Perry, 2009). Tolerance may be a big word and a difficult concept to apply to an entire society but a society that can accept that a person’s hair color doesn’t make them superior or inferior can learn the same about an individual’s race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or ancestry.

IV. Conclusion

In the end, hate crime is a concept that can be universally to every member of society. Although technically nobody is safe from becoming a victim of hate crime, people of a different color than white, a sexual orientation other than heterosexuality, religion other than Christianity are more often the targets of hate crime. The effects of hate crime can have a lasting effect on the targeted community and can result in social movements such as the Civil Rights movement or they can lead to hopelessness and despair as often seen in Native American Reservations.

Solving hate crimes would require the targeted communities to stand up, become deviant and force social change through rebellion.


Anderson, J. F., Dyson, L., & Brooks Jr., W. (2002). Preventing Hate Crime and Profiling Hate Crime Offenders. Western Journal of Black Studies, 26(3), 140. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Bleich, E., & Hart, R. K. (2008). Quantifying Hate: The Evolution of German Approaches to Measuring ‘Hate Crime’. German Politics, 17(1), 63-80. doi:10.1080/09644000701855143

Chakraborti, N. (2010). Crimes Against the “Other”: Conceptual, Operational, and Empirical Challenges for Hate Studies.Journal of Hate Studies, 8(1), 9-28. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Dick, S. (2009). Homophobic hate crime – findings from the Gay British Crime Survey 2008. Safer Communities, 8(4), 35-42. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Key, S. (2006). THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF HATE CRIME AND THE HATE OFFENDER’S DISTORTED COGNITIONS. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 27(6), 597-604. doi:10.1080/01612840600642877

Lieberman, M. (2010). Hate Crime Laws: Punishment to Fit the Crime. Dissent (00123846), 57(3), 81-84. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Macionis, J, & Plummer, K. (2010). Sociology: a global introduction,  13th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Perry, B. (2009). ‘There’s just places ya’ don’t wanna go’: the segregating impact of hate crime against Native Americans.Contemporary Justice Review, 12(4), 401-418. doi:10.1080/10282580903342888

Wachholz, S. (2005). Hate Crimes Against the Homeless: Warning-Out New England Style. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 32(4), 141-163. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.


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