Criminal Law

What is a Hate Crime?


Despite recent news headlines highlighting criminal attacks against Muslims, anti-Muslim hate crimes are relatively rare. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data, Blacks, Jews, and homosexuals are much more frequently the target of hate attacks.

In 2008, 1,606 hate crimes motivated by religious bias were reported across the country. Of those, 1,055, or 65.7 percent, were anti-Jewish. In the same year, 123 hate crimes, or 7.7 percent were anti-Islamic.

Crimes targeting Muslims dropped by more than 75 percent since they peaked at 481 in 2001. Some worry though that the national debate focused on the proposed mosque to be built near ground zero in New York is provoking another spike in anti-Muslim attacks.

Original Article

Early Friday morning on October 9th, 49 year old Jack Price went to the corner deli in his middle-class neighborhood in Queens, New York to buy a pack of cigarettes. Shortly after leaving the deli, Price was confronted by two men yelling anti-gay slurs who proceeded to savagely beat him.

Price suffered a broken jaw, fractured ribs, collapsed lungs and a ruptured spleen. He was placed in a medically induced coma while the police searched for his attackers. Two young men, Daniel Aleman, 26, and Daniel Rodriguez, 21, were arrested and charged with assault and aggravated assault as a hate crime, a felony.

A hate crime, also known as a bias crime, occurs when the crime is motivated by prejudice against the victim’s perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Hate Crime Statistics (2008)

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there were 7,783 hate crime incidents reported in 2008, approximately half of which were racially motivated. The rest of the incidents were motivated by religion (19.5%), sexual orientation (16.7%), ethnicity (11.5%), and disability (1.0%).

The majority of the racial bias incidents targeted African-Americans; the majority of ethnicity bias incidents were against Hispanics; the majority of religious bias incidents were anti-Jewish (65.7%); the majority of sexual orientation bias incidents involved male homosexuals (58.6%), and approximately half of the disability bias incidents were against persons with mental disabilities.

The hate crimes were carried out against both property and persons. Most of the property offenses involved vandalism and damage to property. The majority of hate crimes targeting individuals involved intimidation, followed by assault.

Hate Crimes Legislation

On October 28, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This law expands the definition of a federal hate crime to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity--i.e., transsexual and transgender persons.

The bill is named after two victims of bias-motivated murders, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr.  Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student, died after being kidnapped, tortured and murdered in October 1998. That same year, Byrd, an African-American man, was dragged to death and decapitated by two white supremacists in Texas.

In addition to the federal government, forty-five states and the District of Columbia have laws criminalizing various types of hate crimes. They all ban crimes motivated by race, ethnicity and religion, and the majority also cover sexual orientation, disability and gender.

Hate Speech Not a Hate Crime

Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Under the free speech clause, the federal government and state governments are forbidden from restricting speech, and prohibited from prosecuting people who merely advocate violence against racial, ethnic, or gender minorities.

According to Attorney General Eric Holder, the newly-enacted federal hate crimes law would only be used to prosecute violent acts based on bias, as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial racial or religious beliefs.

Question For Your Attorney

  • What should I do if I have been a victim of a hate crime?
  • There are people that keep making threatening remarks to me because of my race (sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, or religion). I'm scared. What can I do to protect myself from harm?
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