Hate Crime Research Paper

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This research paper aims to lay out some of the key controversies developments in hate crime scholarship and practice in recent years. Specifically, it speaks to the dilemmas of defining and legislating hate and to the harms associated with hate crime. In addition, it enumerates “what’s hot” and “what’s not” in terms of current scholarship, identifying those areas that are well developed and those that have received little attention. It concludes with a discussion of emerging nonpunitive means by which to address hate crime in practice.

Key Issues

Sadly, the phenomenon we have come to call hate crime has a lengthy history in the west. History does indeed repeat itself as similar patterns of motivation, sentiment, and victimization recur over time. Just as immigrants in the 1890s were subject to institutional and public forms of discrimination and violence, so too were those of the 1990s; likewise, former black slaves risked the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan when they exercised their newfound rights in the antebellum period, just as their descendants risked violent reprisal for their efforts to win and exercise additional rights and freedoms in the civil rights era; and women who demanded the right to vote on the eve of the twentieth century suffered the same ridicule and harassment as those who demanded equal rights in the workplace later in the century. While the politics of difference that underlie these periods of animosity may lie latent for short periods of time, they nonetheless seem to remain on the simmer, ready to resurface whenever a new threat is perceived – when immigration levels increase, or formerly powerless groups are suddenly empowered, or when relationships between groups shift for other political, economic, or cultural reasons. Anders Breivik’s appalling attacks in Norway attest to this, as does the surge of Islamophobic violence in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Nonetheless, it has only been in the past two or three decades that practitioners and academics have begun to take hate crime seriously. Most scholars trace the origins of the concept now known as hate crime to the 1980s. The first legislative recognition of hate crime in the United States came in the form of a federal hate crime statute in 1969 and as state act in California in 1978. The real “flurry” began, however, with the signing of the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990. By the end of the 1990s, virtually all US states had hate crime legislation. Most other western nations seem to have followed suit, introducing their own variants during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Interestingly, while most explicitly used the umbrella term hate crime, the UK did not, opting instead for more directed legislation around racial hatred, and later religious hatred.

Oddly, scholarship in the field did not seem to keep pace with legislation. We were much slower to recognize this emerging construct (Shively 2005). Certainly, there were no major works with “hate crime” in the title prior to the mid-1980s. In fact, few references of any kind are to be found in the scholarly literature, until 1989 and 1990, which seemed to be watershed dates. The field really took off in the opening years of the 1990s, with the publication of such works as Kelly’s (1991) Bias Crime: American Legal Response, Herek and Berrill’s (1992) Hate Crimes: Confronting Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men, and Levin and McDevitt’s (1993) Hate Crimes: The Rising Tide of Bigotry and Bloodshed. This research paper seeks to assess the current state of the art in the field.

This research paper opens with traditional definitional dilemmas, moving then to identify emerging approaches to the consideration of the impacts of hate crime for the individual as well as the community(ies) at large. This is followed by a discussion of the tensions associated with legislating and policing hate crime. Focus is then turned to a consideration of “what’s hot” and “what’s not” in the context of hate crime scholarship. The paper ends with a call to consider the value of nonpunitive approaches to hate crime. The aim is to draw attention to areas in need of further development and to inspire a dialogue on how to move forward both academically and practically.

Defining Hate Crime

One of the greatest challenges facing the prevention and response to hate crime is the lack of a common definition and understanding of what constitutes hate crime. There are legal definitions which have generally followed the lead of the model legislation as set out by the Anti-Defamation League:

A person commits a Bias-Motivated Crime if, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender of another individual or group of individuals, he violates Section_______of the Penal code (insert code provisions for criminal trespass, criminal mischief, harassment, menacing, intimidation, assault, battery and or other appropriate statutorily proscribed criminal conduct).

Slightly different are “hate incidents” which are

expressions of bias, prejudice and bigotry that are carried out by individuals, groups, organizations and states, directed against stigmatized and marginalized groups or communities, and intended to affirm and secure existing structures of domination and subordination. (Hate Crimes Community Working Group (hereafter HCCWG) 2006: 18)

It is important to include these noncriminal incidents in our understanding of hate crime, since what appear to be relatively petty incidents are very common and thus wear cumulatively on the victim. That means that, from a scholarly point of view, legalistic definitions are too exclusive, relying as they do on violations of criminal law. They are also significantly limited in their ability to breathe life into the term. They provide little insight into the power dimensions that are inherent in the act of hate crime. Consequently, the preferred definition that has come to be used widely in the literature accounts for the politicized nature of hate crime and the role of hate crime in constructing the relative identities and subject positions of both the victim and the offender, individually and collectively:

Hate crime, then, involves acts of violence and intimidation, usually directed toward already stigmatized and marginalized groups. As such, it is a mechanism of power and oppression, intended to reaffirm the precarious hierarchies that characterize a given social order. It is intended to simultaneously recreate the threatened (real or imagined) hegemony of the perpetrator’s group, and the “appropriate” subordinate identity of the victim’s group. It is a means of marking both the Self and the Other in such a way as to re-establish their “proper” relative positions, as given and reproduced by broader ideologies and patterns of social and political inequality. (Perry 2001)

Here, we see context, intent, and impact. Hate crime is embedded in relations of power and intended to reinforce extant relations. And its aim and effect – typically – is to intimidate a group of people who “hold in common a single difference from the defined norm – religion, race, gender, sexual identity” (Pharr, cited in Wolfe and Copeland 1994: 203). As such, hate crime is a “message crime,” intended to remind not just the immediate victim but also his/her community of their “rightful” place in carefully crafted hierarchies of race, religion, gender, and sexuality, inter alia.

What’s The Harm?

This notion of “message crime” has more recently given rise to more attention to the issue of the impacts of hate crime. In particular, scholars are beginning to assess the ways in which collective harm might derive from biasmotivated violence. Indeed, running through much of the hate crime literature – even through court decisions on hate crime – is the assumption that such offenses are, for that same reason, qualitatively different in their effects, as compared to their non-bias-motivated counterparts. Specifically, Weinstein (1992) identifies three potential levels of harm: “that racial violence causes injury to the victim above and beyond physical damage, that racial violence causes injury not only to the immediate victim but also to the victim’s racial or ethnic group, and that racial violence has particularly pernicious ramifications for society as a whole.” The first of these has been the subject of considerable scholarly attention. The empirical findings in studies of the physical, emotional, psychological, and behavioral impact of hate crime are beginning to establish a solid pattern of more severe impact on bias crime victims, as compared to non-bias victims (see, e.g., McDevitt et al. 2001).

When we move beyond the experiences of the immediate victim to the broader in terrorem effects, we enter the realm of speculation. Many scholars point to the “fact” that hate crimes are “message crimes” that emit a distinct warning to all members of the victim’s community: step out of line and cross invisible boundaries and you too could be lying on the ground, beaten and bloodied. Consequently, the individual fear noted above is thought to be accompanied by the collective fear of the victim’s cultural group, possibly even of other minority groups likely to be victims. Yet, there have been few studies that explicitly survey members of victims’ reference communities to determine the veracity of this assumption (Lim 2009; Noelle 2002; Perry and Alvi 2011).

Another related area that has received scant attention has been the impact of hate crime on perceptions of national ideals. Hate crime throws into question national commitments to tolerance and inclusion. Speaking specifically of Native Americans over 50 years ago, legal scholar Felix Cohen noted that mistreatment – legal or extralegal – of minorities “reflects the rise and fall of our democratic faith.” In other words, it is possible that the persistence of hate crime is a challenge to democratic ideals. It reveals the fissures that characterize its host societies, laying bare the bigotry that is endemic within each. As such, it may very well be the case that biasmotivated violence is not just a precursor to greater intergroup tension, but is an indicator of underlying social and cultural tensions. In this interpretation, hate crime is but one indicator that enshrined ideals of freedom and equality are illusory.

Alternatively, one possibility is that hate crime acts as a catalyst to positive change. That is, patterns of persistent violence, or highly publicized cases – like the 1998 Matthew Shepard or James Byrd cases – often have the unintended effect of mobilizing victim communities and their allies. For example, the racially motivated murders of Michael Griffith in Howard Beach in 1996 and Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst in 1989 both inspired widespread demonstrations condemning the racism of the perpetrators’ communities, as well as the racist culture of New York City generally. On a smaller scale, we’ve seen some evidence of this in Ontario in response to the alleged incidents of hate crime against Asian anglers north of Toronto. Indeed, community outcry resulted in the establishment of an inquiry into those events (Ontario Human Rights Commission 2007).

Legislating Hate: Persistent Challenges

Debate continues to swirl over whether, in fact, we should even attempt to legislate “hate” crime as a distinct entity. For some, this springs from practical concerns with identifying motive. The argument is that it is exceedingly difficult to determine what may have motivated any particular incident, especially in the absence of offensive language or other direct indicators. Thus, officers are likely to be required to gather additional background information “proving” motive – such as ties to racist groups, or previous expressions of homophobic attitudes. It is this approach that raises the thorny issue of “hate thought.”

The most strident critics of hate crime legislation are those who equate the regulation of hate crime with the regulation of hate “thought.” Jacobs and Potter (1998) have been especially articulate in their charges in this respect. Writing of sentencing enhancement provisions, for example, they question how increased punishment for a bias motive could be interpreted as anything other than punishment for beliefs, that is, thoughts, rather than simply the actions. Often, this argument is expressed in constitutional terms, in so much as restrictive legislation is perceived as a violation of the freedom of expression.

Nonetheless, most western nations have responded to public concerns about biasmotivated violence with an array of policy interventions. As early as 1981, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) developed model legislation aimed at confronting hate crime. The framework has proven popular not just in the United States but internationally as well, with nations adopting similar legislative structures.

The most momentous piece of explicit hate crime legislation at the federal level in the USA was the Hate Crime Statistics Act in 1990, according to which states and their respective law enforcement agencies were “required” to report hate crime statistics on an annual basis. With the passage of the act, the federal government appeared to have committed itself to the task of collecting “accurate” information on hate crime nationwide. The Act mandated that all law enforcement agencies report annually on reported and recorded hate crime in their jurisdictions. As of the 2008 reporting year, however, less than 20 % of relevant agencies were in compliance.

The limits of the US federal legislation are immediately apparent in S(b)(1) itself, especially with respect to the narrow definition of both the protected groups and the enumerated offenses. Only five grounds for motivation and eight offenses are to be counted in the UCR. This leaves a lot of ground uncovered. Other criminal offenses and equally injurious noncriminal offenses are left uncounted. Similarly, victimization on the basis of gender or political orientation, for example, is excluded. Moreover, this brings to mind the problem of inconsistency between reporting agencies. Not all states recognize the same categories of bias in their legislation. Some states do not include gender in their hate crime legislation; some don’t include sexual orientation; yet others include such anomalous categories as “whistle blowers.” In short, we have yet to resolve, either philosophically or legally, the question of the “boundaries” of protection.

This problem is, of course, exacerbated in the EU context where member states have diverse pieces of legislation, covering a wide array of different offenses, protected categories, and/or sentencing responses. Reports from the Office for Security and Cooperation Europe (OSCE 2009), for example, consistently bemoan the lack of standardization across EU states. In fact, some states have no specific provisions on hate crime (e.g., Greece, Italy and Portugal). A 2009, OSCE report on hate crime laws includes an overview of the different protected categories among member states, including the most commonly protected classes (e.g., race), frequently protected classes (e.g., gender), and rarely protected classes (e.g., political affiliation). Similarly, states vary on the nature of the legislation, ranging from genocide, to sentencing enhancement, to hate speech provisions. The UK is an interesting case. Policy guidance is largely derived from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) which holds a relatively inclusive definition of hate crime as an offense motivated by race, sexual orientation, faith, and disability. Yet prior to 2003, concrete legislation revolved around racially motivated crime (Crime and Disorder Act, 1998) and religiously motivated crime (Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, 2001). With the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, provisions were extended to include sexual orientation and disability. Protection is thus still limited to only four categories.

Policing Hate

The weaknesses associated with legislative efforts have had the effect of similarly limiting law enforcement’s ability to investigate and respond to hate crime. In addition, Bell (2009: 35) identifies an array of structural limitations on police recording of hate crime including the presence of departmental hate crime policies, level of officer training, and administrative commitment to the issue. As with statutory provisions, there is wide variation among police departments in the extent to which any of above factors prevails. In the USA, for example, it appears that very few departments are effective in identifying or investigating hate motivated crime. On the contrary, very few acknowledge hate crime when it occurs. For instance, in 2005, only 16 % of agencies reported any hate crime; most departments in the Deep South reported no hate activity for the year, which many would find incredible.

In addition to the limitations imposed by law enforcement agencies are those presented by trends in public underreporting. In fact, some argue that hate crimes are even more dramatically underreported than other UCR offenses (Berrill 1992). Gay victims, for example, may fear that the admission of their victimization is concomitantly an admission of their sexual orientation. Reporting an anti-gay crime to the police is tantamount to “outing” themselves – an event for which they may not be prepared. Similarly, the undocumented laborer may fear the repercussions of his or her status being revealed.

Moreover, victims may well fear secondary victimization at the hands of law enforcement officials. At the very least, they may perceive that police will not take their victimization seriously.

Most western nations have attempted to enhance their efforts around hate crime through the development of viable and engaged bias crime units, or in the case of smaller agencies, at least one or two personnel devoted to leading the effort to prevent and investigate hate crime. Most large regional police agencies in Canada, for example, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver, have such dedicated units, generally comprised of 2–4 officers and occasionally civilian researchers and/or analysts.

What’s Hot…

If there is a single field within hate studies that can be said to be highly developed it is in the area of violence against lesbian and gay communities, and especially the latter. Indeed, among the first book length publications in the 1990s were two that dealt explicitly with violence against gays and lesbians (Comstock 1991; Herek and Berrill 1992). Herek would follow this with a series of papers further detailing the “sequalae” of hate crime against gays and lesbians. Indeed, these two books seemed to open the floodgates for work on anti-gay violence, in that it dominated the substantive literature in the broader field of hate crime for most of that decade.

However, two key pieces were missing from the literature on sexualities and on gender. To this day, there has been very little scholarship on the experiences of lesbians specifically. It is as if scholars assumed that the dynamics and impacts of violence of gay men and women alike were equivalent. Indeed, simply glancing over journal titles makes this elision clear, in that they typically include the phrase “lesbians and gay men,” rather than one or the other. Moreover, these pieces do not typically separate the differential experiences, dynamics, or impacts according for gay men and lesbians. This dismisses the fact that gender – and gender expectations – as well as sexualities play a significant role in motivating these crimes.

In the current lexicon, we generally speak of “the” LGBT community. However, the “T” – transgender community – has largely been invisible to hate crime scholars. While “trans violence” is on the surface concerned with gender identity, the emerging scholarship makes it clear that it, too, is often multifaceted, insomuch as sexuality comes into play, at least from the perpetrators’ perspective. Shelley (2008) shares a number of victim narratives in which it is difficult to disaggregate the motivating factors in their assaults. He observes that “trans people are frequently subject to homophobia and heterosexism, whether or not they themselves are heterosexual in orientation” (Shelley 2008: 96). This suggests, then, that trans people are being punished for what is perceived to be inappropriate performance of both their gender and sexual identities. Available evidence is beginning to point to the fact that trans violence may be even more brutal than homophobic violence and more likely to involve sexual assaults. So, too, is it likely to be more dramatic in its impacts. This is perhaps part of the reason why trans people have higher rates of suicide than even their homosexual peers. Given the nascent stage of scholarship in this area, there is still much to learn.

Another long ignored class of targeted violence that has more recently come to the fore is what is typically referred to as disablist hate crime directed toward those with physical or mental disabilities. In the United States, this was the last protected class to be included in the reauthorization of the Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) in 1996. With sexual orientation, it was only added to UK legislation in 2003. Disability has been a protected category in the Canadian sentencing enhancement provision since its inception. Regardless of its legal status, disablist hate crime has long been neglected by hate crime scholars. Hannah Mason-Bisch (2010: 62) suggests that this is because policy makers and scholars alike place disability at the bottom of the “victim hierarchy.” In recent years, a number of scholars have turned their attention to documenting the extent, intensity, and impacts of anti-disability violence. Thus, it is becoming increasingly clear that people with disability are subject to the full spectrum of emotional and physical violence that characterize other communities (Sherry 2010; Lane et al. 2009). What distinguishes this group from others, however, is that they are much more likely to be victimized by people they know – especially caregivers – than is the case for others. Sadly, this dynamic, coupled with a common inability to recognize hate crime, means that disablist violence is dramatically undercounted. It is, thus, an area in need of deeper empirical examination.

The last decade has, for obvious reasons, seen increased attention to Islamophobic violence. Since the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC and above Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, ethnic minorities associated with Islam in most western countries have experienced increased negative attention from the media, from police and security forces, and indeed from agitated citizenry. There has been a concomitant increase in all such countries in the extent of anti-Muslim or “Islamophobic” hate crime, racial vilification, and discrimination (Poynting and Noble 2004; Welch 2006). This has been exacerbated by subsequent terrorist events, notably Bali in October 2002 and October 2005, Madrid in March 2004, and London in July 2005.

In addition to scholarship on particular victim categories, several other issues have captured the imagination of scholars and practitioners. Since the early days of the recognition of hate crime as a public concern, emphasis has been placed on the activities and rhetoric of organized hate groups. In recent years, more attention has been focused on the online activities of these groups. It is likely that this will only increase in the aftermath of Anders Breivick’s attacks in Norway. He had made extensive use of electronic media to share ideas and especially to disseminate his manifesto. This was not something new, but rather something that a natural extension of the growth of the “Web of hate” initiated as early as 1985 when Donald Black created Stormfront, which is generally considered to have been the first white supremacist Web site.

The proliferation of hate-oriented and “White Power” sites has occurred at such a rate that it is virtually impossible to estimate the number of such Web sites. Such counting is made even more difficult by the fact that sites move and shut down on a frequent basis, often resurfacing on other servers with other names. Nonetheless, monitoring organizations have tried to quantify the problem. One 2005 estimate, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, suggested that there were more than 5,000 Web sites advocating hatred at that time. A 2005 International Network Against Cyber Hate publication reported that “during the last 4 years, INACH members handled about 15,000 cases of online hate” (p. 7) among its network of 14 member organizations. It is difficult to assess the accuracy of such estimates. What monitors and scholars can agree on, however, is that the number of such sites has vastly increased over the past decade. Today, it is probably not an exaggeration to say that there are thousands of domestic and international Web sites marketing various brands of hatred and intolerance. For example, as of this writing (December 2012), the Hate Directory runs to nearly 200 pages and thousands of sites.

What’s Not…

Generally speaking, hate crime scholars have not paid very close attention to the concrete experiences of discreet categories of hate crime victims. Comments above about new directions in victim research nothwithstanding, it remains the case that we have done insufficient empirical work with vulnerable communities. In light of this shortcoming, it is hardly surprising, then, that we have failed to take seriously the implications of intersectionalities for how hate crime is experienced. We simultaneously occupy multiple subject positions or identities. Kimberle´ Crenshaw (1994) was among the first scholars to highlight academic neglect of the “intersection of racism and patriarchy.” We might add other categories of difference to this equation, such that we attend to the intersection of racism and patriarchy, but also heterosexuality, class, religion, and disability. All black people do not experience their race in the same ways, but through the prisms of the other elements of their identity. Similarly, to be gay is to experience life differently depending on one’s ethnicity, or religion, or sex. Our identities and life chances are dramatically affected not by one element of who we are, but multiple, crosscutting, and sometimes contradictory positions. Yet this is not something that has taken up much space in the hate crime literature. A powerful exception to this is the work of Doug Meyer (2010). In a series of articles, he has explored empirically and theoretically how gay men and lesbians experience hate crime differently depending upon their class, race, and gender identities. This is a fruitful beginning to a new area of inquiry.

Even in light of the above assessment of the limited depth of research on vulnerable communities, it is clear that we still know more about victims of hate crime than we do about offenders. There are myriad reasons for this. First and foremost is that few such crimes are reported by victims. Where there is no documentation, there is no way to know about the offender. Additionally, even where police are involved, it is very likely that no suspect will be identified. Hate crimes are often random, anonymous events. Especially in incidents of vandalism or graffiti or other property crimes, there is no direct contact between the victim and offender that would allow identification.

Beyond these investigative problems lie academic limitations as well. We frequently speak to victims of hate crime, but rarely do we engage with offenders. In part, this is due to the difficulty in soliciting volunteers for interviews or surveys. Generally, offenders are not necessarily anxious to admit their wrongdoing. A dramatic exception involves members of organized hate groups – these typically young men are often quite happy to share their perspectives on why people of color, gays, or Jews, for example, “deserve” their victimization. However, the proportion of hate crime committed by such individuals remains a very small part of the population of offenders. Consequently, very little research has delved into the explicitly expressed motivations of the “typical” hate crime offender.

Across nations, it is clear that the typical hate crime offender is a young white male who is generally performing among a group of peers. Yet while perpetrators act in a group, it is nonetheless a myth that they are associated with organized hate groups. It is generally thought that less than 5 % of offenders have strong ties to white supremacist or other hate groups. Who, then, are the remainder? It is perhaps troubling to admit that, for the most part, they are probably “normal” young men, acting out cultural scripts of difference and superiority. Very early in the history of hate crime scholarship, Levin and McDevitt (1993), for example, argued that “hate crimes are more often committed under ordinary circumstances by otherwise unremarkable types – neighbors, a coworker at the next desk, or groups of youngsters looking for a thrill” (5).

Levin and McDevitt (1993) were also early to try to explicitly discern the motives provoking hate offenders. They created the now-classic typology of hate crime motives that included thrill seeking, defensive violence, mission/moral agenda, and retaliatory violence. While there have been attempts to replicate and refine Levin and McDevitt’s categorization of offenders (Fisher and Salfati 2009), little work has been done with the typical hate offenders – rather the emphasis, noted above, continues to be on members of organized hate groups in spite of their relative underrepresentation as actual perpetrators of violence. This is especially the case in North America. In contrast, there have been a handful of powerful studies in the UK in recent years. Among these are Sibbit’s (1997) study of racist offenders on two south London housing estates and Gadd and Dixon’s (2011) study in the English North Midlands. Both provide important insights into the cultural and biographical histories that contextualize perpetrators attitudes and behaviors and are thus valuable starting points. Yet they may be limited geographically and culturally. We would do well to explore such violence in other contexts as well.

This suggests another limitation to our current understanding of hate crime. It might be said that we have been myopic, if not blatantly ethnocentric, in our study of hate crime. Attention is focused almost exclusively on the “western” experience of hate crime, with particular emphasis on the USA, the UK, Australia, and Western Europe. We know virtually nothing about racial or religious violence in Japan, or homophobic violence in Saudi Arabia, for example. There is some extant literature on the genocides of Rwanda, or the ethnic cleansing of the Balkan states, but we have not mined these tragic conflicts for lessons about the evolution of hate, or what the ADL might refer to as the pyramid of hate.

In 1998, two “international” anthologies on hate crime were published almost simultaneously. As strong as these were in many respects, they did little to expand our scholarly borders. Kaplan and Bjorgo’s (1998) Nation and Race focused almost exclusively on European issues. Kelly and Maughan’s (1998) Hate Crime: The Global Politics of Polarization strayed a little further afield, to address hate crime in India, ethnic cleansing in Colombia, and Palestinian persecution in the Arab world alongside the standard European and American fare. Subsequent to these two anthologies, however, little else has been done to examine bias-motivated violence outside of Europe and North America. And where attention is paid to racialized or other forms of bigoted violence, as in the Rwandan genocides, for example, this is not typically connected to the continuum on which hate crime falls. Interestingly, an exception appears to be emerging and that is consideration of anti-gay violence in the Caribbean (White and Gerke 2007).

Recent events, such as the 9/11 attacks and even Breivek’s assaults in Norway, have raised the question of the links between terrorism and hate crime. Rosga (1999) and Hamm (1994) have separately articulated arguments that hate crime might, in fact, be understood as a form of terrorism, whereby “an attack motivated by prejudice targets not only its individual victim, but by its symbolic weight, effectively targets a whole group of marked individuals .. .. It functions, in other words, to reduce complex, multi-faceted individuals into one-dimensional, victimized identity categories” (Rosga 1999: 145). Similarly, Mark Hamm (1994) champions the use of the term “domestic terrorism,” by which he means violence – generally perpetrated by organized extremists – intended to reinforce a “putative norm.” Typically, that “putative norm” refers to existing hierarchies along raced or gendered lines.

For obvious reasons, “terrorism” – especially now – is a powerfully evocative word. Both uses of the term capture the dramatic collective impact of bias-motivated violence. The term demands the recognition that “hate crime” is intended to reinforce the subordination – perhaps even the invisibility – of the targeted groups. The two phenomena are at least close cousins (Perry 2009). One might say they run along the same continuum of intimidation and fear, differing in scale more than kind. Yet how is this assessment useful? For one, it encourages us to take hate crime seriously. It could easily evolve into terrorism, as it does among organized hate groups, for example. Yet this point is typically obscured “when attacks on non-government targets, such as abortion clinics or members of unpopular or stigmatized religions, ethnic, racialized, sexual minorities, immigrants or gypsies are defined as ‘hate crimes,’ thus suggesting that such attacks are no more than expressions of personal prejudice” (Jaggar 2005: 204). As most would agree, however, the intent of hate crime is not only or even primarily intimidation of an individual, but of their community.

Countering Hate Crime

The majority of western nations have responded to hate crime punitively, opting for harsher sentences. However, we’ve learned in the last decade or so that harsher sentences don’t necessarily make safer communities. Purely punitive responses have the potential to be counterproductive, in that they may “actually increase the social divisions they are designed to ameliorate” (Franklin 2002: 154). Moreover, hate crime offenders who go to prison often find themselves among peers who will reinforce their racist, or homophobic, or religious biases. Most offenders are youth, especially young men who are responding to what they see as a threat – to their community, to their neighborhood, or to their self-esteem. Often, these threats are more imagined than real. It has proven to be more effective, then, to challenge those myths and to thus “humanize” the victims and their communities. Incidents of hate crime can be taken as a starting point for education and healing rather than simply punishment. Consequently, community-based responses represent valuable alternatives. For the most part, however, these remain underdeveloped both conceptually and in practice. Indeed, Iganski and Smith (2011) recently canvassed a number of western nations, seeking evidence of programs for young hate crime offenders specifically. The findings were meager indeed, with nations like Australia, New Zealand, and Canada lacking any such programs, while promising US initiatives had been largely defunded. Germany, Sweden, and the UK seemed to be the only states boasting a commitment to anti-hate programming. While limited in number, the programs that were identified did seem to point to the importance of nonpunitive approaches. Alternative initiatives can be grouped into a number of categories.

Education. Rabbi Steven Moss, creator of New York City’s Stopbias program stated that “I find most defendants are not bigoted in their hearts but are acting out, using hate words but often not knowing why they are hateful. You want to create an environment in which the [student] can grow from this.” With this in mind, one option is to recommend an educational opportunity for hate crime offenders. This will make an impact on both the community and the offender. At the simplest level, the court could be asked to require that offenders take college or university courses on diversity, or on the community that has been victimized. Another, that is widely used in the United States, is for offenders to engage in community service within the victim’s community. These alternatives are intended to deter further bias-motivated violence by teaching offenders the effects of their actions and by putting a human face on the victims.

Offender Counseling. Related to this are more formalized anti-bias programs that might be available in local communities, either through the justice system or through nonprofit agencies. Nearly two-thirds of all known perpetrators of hate crimes are teenagers or young adults. When appropriate, a victim-offender restitution program or offender counseling program can be an effective sanction for juveniles. Like the educational initiatives noted above, these are grounded in the understanding that young offenders, especially, often act out of ignorance and uncritical adoption of community norms of racism, homophobia, etc.

Counseling initiatives provide an opportunity to educate hate crime offenders about those who are the object of their violence. The goal is to alter and expand the offenders’ perceptions of other cultures. These programs can consist of such activities as visits to places of worship or community centers, listening to guest speakers from other cultures, and listening to stories from victims of bias crimes. It might also include lessons on human and civil rights law, racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of prejudice and a short history outlining the legacy of discrimination against minorities in America.

Victim-Offender Mediation. Recently, victim-offender mediation has been used in an increasing number of contexts, including hate crime. This option allows victims and offenders enter into a dialogue intended to enhance their understanding of one another: the motives of the offender and the effects on the victim. Part of the dialogue – which must be freely entered by both parties – is also the resolution of their conflict, generally by the offender admitting guilt and offering a sincere apology. Additionally, however, the two parties are meant to come to a mutually acceptable agreement about “what’s next,” typically, some kind of restitution. The goal in victim-offender mediation, then, is to empower the victim while evoking compassion and understanding on the part of the offender, so as to minimize recidivism.

Restorative Justice. In some cases, restorative justice may also be viable, particularly for low-level bias-motivated offenses and for juvenile offenders. The restorative justice model goes beyond victim-offender mediation to promote involvement of the victim, the offender, and the community in the justice process. In particular, restorative justice interventions help to restore victims’ and communities’ losses by holding offenders accountable for their actions by making them repair the physical and emotional harm they have caused. Such interventions also focus on changing the behavioral patterns of offenders so that they become productive and responsible citizens. The restorative justice model places emphasis on everyone affected by the crime – the community and the victim as well as the offender – to ensure that each gains tangible benefits from their interaction with the criminal justice system. This alternative, then, specifically addresses the community impact of hate crime, allowing any affected party a place at the table.

It is not enough to intervene at the level of the individual offender. Perpetrators are largely reflections of the communities within which they live, where sentiments are shaped by popular opinion as well as political rhetoric. We can expect little popular change in attitude without a corresponding – or even precedent – shift in government policies and rhetoric. In light of the rise of viable right-wing political parties across the west, this battle will not be an easy one. Hate-motivated vilification and violence can only flourish in an enabling environment. In most western nations, such an environment has historically been conditioned by the activity – and inactivity – of the state. State practices, policy, and rhetoric often provide the formal framework within which hate crime – as an informal mechanism of control – emerges. Practices within the state, at an individual and institutional level, which stigmatize, demonize, or marginalize traditionally oppressed groups legitimate the mistreatment of these same groups on the streets.

If political rhetoric fuels the flames of hatred, then it is also clear that a positive politics of difference expressed at the level of the state is vital if we are to temper, if not extinguish, those flames. First and foremost, politicians must assume a leadership role in condemning rather than embracing hate crime, organized hate groups, and other blatant expressions of intolerance. As leaders, they must express a commitment to social justice grounded in justice rather than injustice, inclusion rather than exclusion, respect for rather than resentment of difference. Just as the hate movement has piggybacked on the reactionary politics of the right, so too might a progressive movement exploit the windows opening up within more progressive parties.

Giving oppressed communities an opportunity to have a voice in such conversations is a first step in realizing social justice. Social justice revolves around participation and democratic representation in the home, in the workplace, and in political arenas. In other words, it consists of the ability to “do difference” without fear of violent reprisal. It frees women to make household decisions without fear of being beaten; it frees people of color to pass through or live in any neighborhood without fear of attack; it frees gay men and lesbians to demand equal treatment and recognition without fear of violence.


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