Crime is a constant worry for many, but hate crime can be particularly concerning. Hate crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are crimes that are perpetrated against someone based on bias against that person’s race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, or, in more recent years, sexual orientation. These types of crimes were delineated in 1968 in a law signed into being by President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to the US Department of Justice.
History of Hate Crimes in America
Hate crimes may not have had an official legal definition until 1968, but they had been perpetuated in America for centuries before that. One famous example is the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), who arose out of Reconstruction in the 1860s to terrorize newly-freed black men, women, and children, particularly in the American South, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Another group in American history who faced hate crimes, based on their ethnic and national origin, were Irish immigrants and those of Irish descent. According to the Library of Congress, Irish immigrants coming to the United States in the nineteenth-century were targeted due to their poverty and their religion – predominantly Catholicism.
Hate crimes have been perpetrated against various groups throughout American history – these are only two examples in a long history – and have, in recent decades, resulted in increased media coverage as well as broadening definitions of what a hate crime is.
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Hate Crime Statistics
According to the Anti-Defamation League, reported hate crimes in 2015 totaled 5,850, with nearly half being based on race and 18% based on sexual orientation. These are, of course, reported statistics. Colorado Public Radio notes that it’s possible that over half of hate crimes that occur go unreported.
- Propublica: Victims in thousands of potential hate crimes never notify police
- Pew Research Center: Anti-Muslim assaults reach 9/11 era levels, FBI data show
Most Famous Hate Crimes Cases
One of the most famous hate crime cases in America was that of Matthew Shepard. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die because of his sexual orientation, resulting in a broader definition of hate crimes to encompass sexual orientation. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Action was passed in 2009 by the United States Congress.
Another famous hate crime that occurred in American history was the lynching of 14-year-old African American Emmett Till in Mississippi. Till was accused of offending a white woman in a grocery store, and was abducted and murdered, then dumped in the Tallahatchie River, according to Black Past. Although this hate crime occurred in 1955, as recently as June 2017, Till’s historical marker in Money, Mississippi continues to be vandalized, according to National Public Radio (NPR).
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Victims of Hate Crimes
The definition of a hate crime has broadened since the original legislation. As a result of this, more groups are reporting hate crimes. There are several types of hate crimes in America, as detailed below.
Race and Ethnicity
Hate crimes based on race and ethnicity have risen significantly since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, according to Think Progress, who report that 261 hate crimes between November 9th and February 10th. The vast majority of these crimes have taken place against Jewish and Black people.
In addition, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that hate crimes against Jewish people (as an ethnic group), including the use of swastikas and Nazi imagery, has also increased in the past several year, up 9 percent from 2014.
Finally, Victim Connect notes that while racially motivated hate crimes have decreased slightly since 1995, over half of racially motivated hate crimes in 2015 were committed against black or African-American people.
Religion is another category of hate crimes. The Jewish Virtual Library notes that in 2015, 23% of victims of hate crimes were targeted based on their religious beliefs or affiliations. The Religious Action Center also notes that while attacks on Jewish individuals and groups are growing, the rate of violence against Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs in the wake of 9/11 is also increasing.
Sikhs, in particular, have faced numerous hate crimes since 9/11, based on the erroneous assumption that they are Arab and/or Muslim, two features of the perpetrators of 9/11 (and several billion others). The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund notes that since 9/11, over 800 incidents against Sikh, Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Americans have occurred, and that Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims, leading to difficulties in pinpointing the exact increase in occurrences.
InterNations notes that while open hostility against the LGBTQA+ community is less severe in the US than in many other places, there are over 1,000 known hate groups in the United States, and many of these target people based on sexual orientation.
At the federal level, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act covers hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Many states, Equality Virginia notes, do not have state-level hate crime laws.
The American Association of University Women notes that the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) of 2009, as mentioned, expanded hate crimes protection categories further than the 1968 law, making gender one of the categories.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) also argues that sexual violence is a hate crime, although, disturbingly, hate crimes against women and girls – like the 2006 Amish school shooting in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – are less likely to be considered a hate crime than crimes against minority groups. In addition, Equality Ohio notes that the FBI doesn’t specifically collect data on gender-based hate crimes, making tracking statistics difficult.
The American Foundation for the Blind notes that the rate of serious violent crime against persons with disabilities is more than 3 times the average rate for those without disabilities. People with disabilities are also less likely, despite federal protections, to report hate crimes, according to Disability Justice.
Hate crimes are incredibly problematic – they are hard to track, are often under-reported, and can comprise of both violent and nonviolent actions. Here are some additional resources to learn more about hate crimes in America:
- The Leadership Conference has a great article, Hate crimes in America: The nature and magnitude of the problem.
- Interfaith Youth Core also discusses the topic: Are hate crimes increasing in America?