Hate Crime: What it is and the Laws surrounding it

One of the many struggles of humanity in recent decades is to curb racial discrimination. As we mourned the casualties influenced by race, we have set efforts for such atrocities to never occur once more. We have authored laws and reinforced cultural norms to banish forever such discrimination which once placed people of color in chains. However, there are still trace cases of racism in our communities. Cases which lead to violence of those oppressed are referred to as hate crime. Let us tackle this form of crime to gain a better insight on what fuels it.

Also referred to as bias-motivated crime, it usually arises from prejudices against the target’s membership in a certain social group or race. Aside from race, groups differentiated by sex, ethnicity, disability, language, among others can also be the target of this form of crime. It is considered a form of crime if any criminal acts are done on any members of such groups due to them simply being part of them and for no other reason. Initially, the term ‘hate crime’ referred to unauthorized punishment of criminal by extrajudicial means. It has since been recognized as execution outside of normal justice, motivated by suppression of minorities.

Biases are considered criminal if they involve physical assault, bullying, harassment, damage to property, verbal abuse and insults, or even graffiti against members of the victimized groups. Due to the discrimination that members are exposed to, a hate crime can cause serious psychological consequences on its victims as compared to other crimes, often leading to depression and anxiety.  For the groups involved, this may cause generalized terror as members feel vulnerable in their communities and lose their sense of security.  Widespread hate crime can also cause division and factionalism especially for multicultural communities who consider these biases as norms and tend to sever bonds once formed among its citizens.

To curb such incidents and deter bias-motivated violence, hate crime laws have long been enacted by almost all nations globally. In the law, hate crimes are considered more grave than hate speech and are given greater penalties. In the U.S, hate crime laws are upheld by both the Supreme Court and lower courts. The first to be passed in the US is the Civil Rights Act of 1871 after the American Civil War, aimed to fight the growing number of racially-motivated crimes.  The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act also increase the penalties for hate crimes fuelled by race, color, or religion.

Persons who violate this law are charged with a fine or imprisonment of one year or both. If the victims suffer bodily injuries caused by the assailant using weapons, the sentence can reach 10 years. Hate crimes that involve sexual assault, kidnapping,  or murder are punishable with life imprisonment or worse; death penalty. Victims may also seek compensation for damages.

Hate crimes pose a threat to humanity’s goal of purging racism and oppression of minority groups. Fortunately, there exist laws that ensure that those who commit them do not go unpunished.