Hate Crimes in the US

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Sep 15, 2019

Data collected by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism shows that hate crimes committed by white nationalists or motivated by far-right ideologies have been on the rise since 2018. This has been the highest hate crime rate since 2010, and this trend seems to be continuing this year.

Hate crime definition

Most any crime can be a hate crime depending on the motivation of the criminal. The legal definition of hate crime states that traditional crimes like murder, arson, or vandalism becomes a hate crime when it is motivated by bias or hatred toward a race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, gender, ethnicity , or disability. This hate crime definition is the legal definition, but it is not entirely comprehensive since there are numerous other covert forms of violence in America toward minorities. For instance, the FBI will still classify a crime as a hate crime even if the offender was mistaken of the victim’s true identity.

Generally speaking, the most frequently reported of which are destruction/damage/vandalism, intimidation, and simple assault. However, it should be noted that hate speech is not considered a hate crime in the US.

Hate crime trends

Of the 2,009 hate crimes against minorities in 2018, 41% were based on race, 26% were based on sexual orientation, 24% were based on religion, while the remaining 8% were divided between gender, transgender, disabilities, and others. This number is 9% higher than the previous year—a trend that has been ongoing for 3 years.

Among races, African Americans and Jews were the most frequent targets of various hate crimes. 23.5% of hate crimes based on race were directed toward African Americans while Jews closely follow at 21.5%. Other races also experienced hate crimes: whites at 9.3%, Latinxs at 9.1%, and Asian Pacific Islander and other races at 2%. 

Anti-LGBTQ+ violence is evidently on the rise as well. According to the FBI, the trend started in 2016. 1,303 hate crimes based on sexual orientation were reported in 2017. Of these, 58.2% were anti-gay, 24.6% were mixed group bias, 12.2% were anti-lesbian, 2.1% were anti-bisexual, and 2.8% were anti-heterosexual. 131 of reported offenses were based on gender-identity bias, 118 of which are anti-transgender and 13 of which were anti-gender non-conforming.

Religious bias has been the most predominant driver of hate crime since 9/11. In 2017, the most commonly targeted religious groups are Jewish and Muslims. Other religious groups also experienced hate crimes, but reported incidences are significantly fewer than those of Jewish and Muslims.

Hate crime statistics in the US

It should be noted that these data are based only on reported hate crimes. There is a chance that a significant number of hate crimes do not get reported. Victims of hate crimes tend to neglect reporting incidents to authorities for either of the following reasons: handled another way (41%), perceived as not important enough (19%), believed that the police would not help (18%), police could not do anything (5%), other (17%).

Why victims don

Understanding hate crimes

The dismal state of US society as reflected in hate crime statistics 2018 is quite alarming. It is easy to just focus on these incidents and how to prevent them while zoning out on other pertinent factors like the perpetrators’ motivations and factors that pushed them to commit the crimes.

Human tendencies

Psychologists noted that people have a propensity for finding scapegoats to blame after tragedies like 9/11 . The natural tendency is to protect ourselves, and therefore to be suspicious of everyone else that is not us. It is part of our species’ survival instinct. However, social psychologists say that there is a fine line between people who commit hate crimes and those who may act suspicious towards other races or other minorities. Yet, this is a kind of continuum: with hatemongers and white supremacy ideologies persisting in social media, the fear felt by an otherwise tolerant person could easily grow into racism, homophobia, or religious intolerance, or in extreme cases, alt-right violence.

This tendency to look for scapegoats is further compounded by another human tendency—the tendency to see people other than themselves as more homogenous. This is termed “outgroup homogeneity effect.” This effect leads people to believe that anyone outside of their group (such as race or gender) are all the same, as opposed to seeing them as individuals. Thus, it leads to strong stereotyping and prejudice. 

Mental illness

It has become routine for news outlets to fixate on the mental health of people who commit hate crimes. Human rights activists have decried this practice as it creates an excuse for the perpetrators, and in doing so, diminishes the humanity of the victims as well as the atrociousness of the crime.

A Psychologist from the University of California, Los Angeles, Edward Dunbar, PhD , found nuanced results. His research found that individuals who commit hate crimes are not necessarily mentally ill in the “traditional” sense, but they are extremely troubled and have high levels of aggression and antisocial behavior. 

Childhood history also plays a role in the development of violent individuals. These are often individuals who grew up in abusive or highly violent homes. They consequently turn into adults who resort to unusual, and in some instances violent, methods to resolve their feelings. Furthermore, they tend to direct their hatred towards individuals or groups that are 

Unfortunately, these “troubled” individuals easily fall victim to the prevailing rhetoric of hatred and violence. Social media groups promoting alt right ideologies affirm the feelings of these “troubled” individuals, thereby making violent actions seem socially acceptable.

White supremacist rhetoric

Hate crimes in the US in 2018

To describe white supremacist rhetoric would be redundant. However, white supremacist rhetoric is not confined to white people spewing hateful words and demanding a wall on their border. Oftentimes, white supremacist ideologies sneak into people’s consciousness through seemingly harmless statements and jokes. News reports implicating certain races fuel the anxieties of people. Bias is masked under a façade of objectivity and statistics. This is how, despite the absurdity of the idea, a large number of white people is afraid that they are being outnumbered and replaced by other races. This is just one of many.

From being covert and limited to small online fora, white supremacists found strength in the election of President Trump. His main message is that white people are losing control of America, and that they need to take it back through whatever means necessary. Problems faced by the US are all blamed on the “others.” Fear and prejudice are implanted in the minds of unknowing individuals. And it is cultivated by repetition courtesy of mainstream media and other influential individuals.

Combating hate

Combating hate crimes

There is no better way to fight hate than by nipping it in the bud. The youth are especially vulnerable to the influence of white supremacist ideologies. So, it is important to educate children and teenagers about multiculturalism and racism. Likewise, exposure to other cultures and people of other cultures can significantly reduce tendency to fall for the “outgroup homogeneity effect.” The same, however, can be said for other members of a community. Anyone can be educated and pointed to the right direction.

Out in the streets, it is best to stay alert and engaged. People who have the privilege of not being a minority can literally prevent others from terrorizing minorities. Otherwise, reporting hate crimes can also be of significance. 

Awareness of the mechanisms of covert racism can be beneficial for individuals so that they can avoid being brainwashed by pervasive racist/misogynistic/islamophobic/homophobic rhetoric. If more individuals are inspired to be open to diversity, multiculturalism might just overshadow the dangerous ideologies of white supremacists.

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