What’s a hate crime?

Panracial’s comment on the latest noose post about people of colour’s feelings not being considered got me thinking about why. This is an ongoing process, but today I decided to focus on hate crime. I randomly googled and found this article, the comments to which are edifying.

It would seem then that a lot of people don’t actually understand what a hate crime is. The USA Today article that is referred to doesn’t help either as it defines a hate crime as “a crime motivated by a bias”. In most people’s minds, making a noose or even showing someone a picture of a gas chamber does not constitute a crime. No?

So I looked for other definitions. Canada’s laws, for example, talk about “intimidation, harrassment, physical force or threat of physical force”, “inciting the killing of members of a group” (which is where our nooses come in), and “publicly stirring up or inciting hatred”. Clearer, eh?

In the UK, the gist is the same, but then the Home Office get confused and say a hate crime is “any incident, which constitutes a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim…”, as if it has first to be a criminal offence before it can be termed a hate crime. No wonder people are confused.

So, back to the US. Oh horror of horrors! Guess what? According to this website, a hate crime is indeed a crime, and hate speech is not a hate crime! I am, of course, aware that many offences not considered to be crimes per se in other countries are considered so in the US, but I am pretty sure that the average American is very confused about the subject.

Compare this comment from Crime Scene KC:

I would expect people to be smarter than to actually think you can regulate thought or make certain thoughts illegal.

And this comment from Penfield Tate (D-Denver), commenting on a defeated Colorado hate crime bill, 1999-APR-16:

Many people who are against this bill have said they oppose it because it makes thought a crime. It does not. This is about actions…motivated by hatred.

But I do not want to be quoted as finding excuses for people who don’t get it. I am interested in why because understanding a problem can help us to overcome it better. Y’know, “know thine enemy” and all that.

And now that I know why, I now have yet another example of how individual acts of racism are institutionally and systemically supported and perpetuated.

(edited to add forgotten US link)

3 thoughts on “What’s a hate crime?

  1. The U.S. Coast Guard knows a thing or two about hate crimes and the use of a noose hung in effigy. Coast Guard has three noose incidents in the last year that have gone unresolved. There is an allegation of a black face doll being hung in effigy now.

  2. I can’t figure out why, on the one hand, someone would do such a horrible thing, but then, on the other hand, so many white people seem to lack empathy for the feelings evoked. The aloofness that a lot of white people seem to demonstrate for this kind of action is very disheartening.

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