Hate Crimes

Resources from the American Academy of  Pediatrics

Article by Arno Michaelis after Charlottesville:  I learned the hard way how to stop hate

ABC Article: How parents and teachers can talk to kids about violence in Charlottesville

Special thanks to Daryl Davis for providing this information on hate crimes.  

What is a Hate Crime?

A hate crime is a crime perpetrated by a person with an animus towards another person or persons for no other reason than the fact that the victim(s) of the crime belong to a segment of society of which the perpetrator does not approve. These segments of society could be race, nationality, religion, gender, age, disability, etc. The perpetrator usually does not belong to the segment of society upon which he/she perpetrates the crime. The crime could be physical abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, or abuse of a physical piece of property.

Who do hate crimes affect the most?

Most people would probably say the most affected person of a hate crime is the intended victim. Certainly, the target of a hate crime is certainly traumatized, emotionally, mentally, and perhaps even physically if violence was involved. However, I would say those most affected are the ones who make up the society or community in which the hate crime took place. When some commits a hateful or untoward act towards another human being or their property, it casts an extremely negative shadow over the community in which it took place. The society is then scarred and must work hard to assure each other and other surrounding communities that this hate crime is an anomaly and not a reflection of the attitudes of this particular community as a whole. So when a hate crime is targeted against an individual or a particular group, yes they are affected greatly, but I believe it is the larger society as a whole is the most affected and they bear the responsibility for making each and every citizen in the society feel equal and free from hate crimes.

What will happen if it is not solved?

If the problem is not solved, anarchy will prevail and the community will relive the days of the Old Wild West, where people would wantonly shoot each other with impunity and without compunction because of something as simple as not liking the person. When the Ku Klux Klan was formed in 1865, it wasn’t long before the members took it upon themselves to clean up society of Blacks, by lynching, beating and murdering them for no other reason than the color of their skin. It rapidly spread from the South to many other states as well.

In 1871, Congress had to pass laws known as the Ku Klux Klan Acts of 1871 to suppress the KKK because of its profound negative effect on society with all of its hate crimes (they weren’t called “hate crimes” back then).  Later the KKK was revived and along with Blacks, they added Catholics and Jews and others to list of potential victims of their hate. Today they are still around, but Catholics have been taken off the list. Hispanics and Asians have been added.

We see similar out of control hate occurring outside our country as well. In Ireland, it’s the hate between Catholics and Protestants. They kill one another and bomb each other’s buildings. In Israel, the hatred manifested between Jews and Palestinians has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths since this ongoing hatred started in 1948. In Lebanon, it’s between the Christians and the Muslims. In some countries in Africa, it’s between various tribes.

Let me be clear that I’m speaking in broad terms here. Certainly not all Catholics and Protestants hate each other and there are plenty of Christians and Muslims who get along just fine. These problems however do occur in certain societies and then spread casting a negative view of each community or group of people in general.

So, it is obvious that if the problem of hate is not eliminated or at the very least curtailed, this can quickly become the result in our country.

What are the causes of the problem?

I could give a million reasons for the causes. I could say the reason depends upon the location or the particular situation. For instance, in many of our towns, a lot of hate crimes are perpetrated against Latino or Hispanic people. Here are some actual reasons given:

  • “They don’t speak our language.”
  • “They’re taking jobs away from Americans.”
  • “They’re here illegally.”
  • “Our government gives them benefits that we Americans can’t even get.”
  • “We don’t want them mixing with our kind.”

Another target of hate is the gay population:

  • “That’s not normal behavior.”
  • “They need the homosexuality beaten out of them.”
  • “They don’t belong in a normal society.”
  • “They are all perverts.”
  • “They are all child molesters.

In California, the hispanics tend to be a target of hate. In Florida, it’s often the Cuban people. In the Deep South, it’s the Blacks. In the Gulf area of Texas, it’s the Vietnamese fishermen … and the list goes on. Many perpetrators feel that this different looking person or religion has somehow infringed upon their space. Therefore in their minds, they are the victims because what was once a White neighborhood, now has Blacks. What were mostly Black jobs are now being done by Hispanics.

What was a predominantly straight section of town is being taken over by gays and gay bars. So, many of these perpetrators consider themselves the disenfranchised victims and they are protecting their heritage and ridding society of inferiority.

There are many different targets of hate crimes and each perpetrator may have many different reasons which they feel justifies their commission of the crime. However in all honesty, there are not a million reasons why hate crimes are committed; there are not thousands nor hundreds. In fact, there aren’t even three reasons. There are only two reasons. One is ignorance and the other is stupidity.

Some people define those two terms as synonyms. However, I make clear distinctions between them. To me, an ignorant person is someone who makes a poor choice or wrong decision because he/she does not have the proper facts to make a good choice or decision. If that person were to be supplied with the facts of the situation before deciding, they could then make the correct and proper decision. A stupid person is someone who does have the facts regarding the
situation, but still makes the wrong choice. For example:

I come to visit you at your house for the first time. While you happen to have your back turned, Your dog comes running up to me wagging its tail and sniffing around my legs. The dog and I don’t know each other, so he’s checking me out. This is what dogs do.  He seems friendly enough, so I reach down and pet him on the nose and he takes a bite out of my hand. This is due to my ignorance. I didn’t know your dog had issues with this. Many other dogs I’ve encountered have licked my hand when I petted them on the nose. So I was ignorant to your dog’s behavior.

Same scenario, but this time you say to me, “If my dog comes up to you, let him finish sniffing your pants leg before you pet him or he will bite you. He has to be satisfied with you before he’ll let you touch him.” Well now I have the proper information to make good decision not to pet the dog before he finishes his investigation of me. But guess what? The dog was wagging it’s tail and sniffing me and appeared to be friendly, so I went ahead and reached down to pet its nose. Now I’m missing a couple of fingers. Well, I had the proper information to make a good choice. The owner of the dog who certainly knows the dog better than I do, specifically instructed me how to behave with the dog. Even with that  information from a reliable source I chose to pet the dog anyway before it finished inspecting me. Now I have to have my fingers sewn back on. Was I ignorant or stupid? Do you understand the difference?

Fortunately, there is a cure for ignorance. That cure is called EDUCATION. Education allows us to make informed choices. That education can come from what we learn in school (academic), or what we learn by observing the experiences of others (vicarious) or what we learn from our own experiences (empirical). Unfortunately, there is NO cure for stupidity. If you educate someone the proper information and facts and they still choose to make the wrong choices, there is nothing you can do.

So we must strive to educate ourselves and be willing to educate others by sharing our knowledge and experience when the opportunity presents itself. Whenever we have a problem or a medical illness, it is always best to treat the root cause and not just the symptoms. If you have severe pain in your abdomen one night and because it hurts so much you can’t sleep.

So you take an aspirin for pain and a sleeping pill for to put you to sleep. Well now, you’ve only treated the symptoms. When those medications wear off, the pain again returns and you toss and turn in your bed. So you must now find the root of the problem that caused the pain and sleeplessness. The doctor examines you and informs you that you have a kidney stone. That is the root of the problem causing all these other symptoms. When the doctor removes the stone, the other symptoms also go away not to return.

Ignorance is one root problem behind hate crimes. People who lack exposure to other people, cultures, and diversity, tend to be xenophobic. They fear the unknown or what is foreign to them. So ignorance breeds fear. If that fear is not kept in check, the fear will breed hatred. People tend to hate those things that frighten them. If the hatred is not kept in check, it will breed destruction. People want to destroy what they hate, because it caused them to be afraid. There’s a good possibility that what they were afraid of, was harmless, but they were to ignorant to realize it.

Remember: Ignorance breeds fear; fear breeds hatred; hatred breeds destruction.

The other root cause is stupidity. There are those people who know better and are aware that people or religions, etc., different from their own, pose no threat. Yet they commit a hate crime anyway just to feel powerful. This is sheer stupidity and unfortunately, there will always be stupid people in the world. We can only hope that we can educate ourselves to be alert and vigilant and recognize the symptoms of stupidity in order to alert law enforcement or other
authorities who may be able to prevent these crimes and apprehend those responsible for committing them after they occur.

What debates are there about its causes?

Other than ignorance and stupidity, the debates center round the “million reasons” I gave examples of in the previous question. But at the end of the day when you get right down to the root of the crime, you find that it was committed because someone hated something, because they feared how it might impact their live and community in which they reside, and they hadn’t done their homework or research on the subject. Their fears were baseless. In other words they were ignorant.  Again: Ignorance breeds fear; fear breeds hatred; hatred breeds destruction.

What debates are there about what to do about the problem?

There are some debates that take place. Some call for more strict hate crime laws and stiffer penalties. Others debate that hate crime laws only benefit a particular group and are not enforced when a crime is committed against the group to which the perceived perpetrator belongs.

Hate Crime Laws

Hate crime laws are applied whenever a crime has been perpetrated and it was motivated by the bias of the perpetrator. It generally  reflects how the perpetrator feels about someone’s age, race, disability, gender, religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The penalty for a hate crime is much stiffer than the same crime with the hate element removed.

For example: If you and I got into an argument in public and you punched me and yelled, “You’re a stupid fool,” that would be assault and you might be charged with assault and disturbing the peace. You might spend a weekend in jail and be fined $100.  However, if you were to strike me and yell, “You’re a stupid nigger,” you would be charged with the same offenses but they would be elevated to the category or level of what is known as a hate crime because this crime was motivated by racial bias. Now you might be fined $1000 and have to spend several months to a year in jail.

If we were neighbors and we had a dispute and you retaliated by putting a tire on my lawn and setting it on fire, you would be charged with arson. I would suffer some burnt grass and a nasty odor outside my house of burnt rubber. But if you burned a cross on my lawn, that arson charge would be elevated to hate crime status because you have supposedly hurt me emotionally and the crime was motivated by bias.

If I were to go an spray paint a bunch of swirls on a synagogue the fine would be much less than if I spray painted a swastika on the synagogue, because of the implication, regardless of the fact that both actions amount to defacing property and regardless of the fact that the swirls may have been big and take a long time to sandblast off and the swastika was small and even easily removed.

I personally think we should do away with hate crime laws. Why? Because I feel that humanity and we as a society need to view each and every person as an equal human being with equal rights. What I feel we need to do, is to sharply increase the penalties we already have for non-bias motivated crimes, elevating those penalties to the same level as what penalties we would assign to hate crimes. Regardless of whether or not someone hits me and call me a nigger or just hits me and calls me nothing at all, I think you should pay the $1000 fine and go to jail for the several months to a year. The same would apply to whether it was a  burning tire or burning cross, swirls painted or a swastika. This sends out a strong message that violence (outside of self-defense) or defacing property is a crime and will not be tolerated for any reason whatsoever and the consequences will be a stiff price to pay. We need as a society to put a higher value on human life and exhibit a higher respect for differences that do not impact negatively upon others. Sometimes people get the wrong message and think, well as long as I don’t call him a racially or religiously derogatory name when I beat him, I won’t get into too much trouble. Let’s change that to, “Yes, you will be in a lot of trouble if you beat on people who did not attack you, regardless of what you call or don’t call them.”

Furthermore, certain crimes are committed as rites of passage for certain people. For example, some gangs require that before you can join you have to commit a certain crime. The more major the crime you commit the more feared and respected you are by the gang. Why do people join gangs? The given reason is usually because they want to belong to something and be accepted.

The real reason is because they want a sense of power. That’s why they are called gangs to begin with. They won’t do anything on their own because they are cowards, but they will “gang” up on you because then they feel powerful.

Committing what we call hate crimes is also a rite of passage for certain supremacist groups. For example: In June of 1998, three White men grabbed a Black man they didn’t even know and tied him to the back of a pickup truck in Jasper, TX and dragged full speed down the road till his death. Why? Because they wanted to impress and join the local chapter of the KKK in that town. So they committed the ultimate hate crime.

They chose this particular crime because it was so hateful and it was the ultimate (murder). My feelings are that if these types of crimes were not elevated above similar crimes without the element of hate, there would be less of them, especially if all penalties were elevated.