Evaluating hate crime statutes necessary

As captivating as it is to see parades of people shouting incoherently about despicable topics, ignorance and fatuity on full display for all to watch with collective abhorrence, it is a huge disappointment that hate groups continue to prosper at record levels in the United States.

According to a recent report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks hate activity throughout the country, the United States is home to almost 1,000 hate groups. In Arizona alone, there are Neo-Nazi, Racist Skinhead and Black Separatist groups, among others, according to a Hate Map on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Web site.

Hate groups are gaining steam in the national landscape, and as tensions continue to escalate between various sections of the populous, one can only expect there to be an eventual increase in hate crime activity, as people jump from speech to actions.

At a time when the potential for bias-motivated crimes is building, it is becoming increasingly important that we evaluate our current hate crime statutes, determine whether we are justified in implementing them and decide whether they are really necessary to achieve the end that they purport to accomplish.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Web site, a hate crime is defined as

“a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.”

The FBI’s Web site also includes Congress’ definition of a hate crime. It says, “Congress has defined a hate crime as a ‘criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.’”

According to Humanrightsfirst.org, when a person is accused of committing a violent hate crime, the charge against him or her is typically supplemented with an “aggravating” clause, which usually carries additional penalties if the person is found guilty. For example, a person accused of committing a violent hate crime like assault would face a charge of aggravated assault.

However, it is important to note that a person can still be guilty of a hate crime even if that person does not hate anybody. In other words, hate does not need to be a motivating factor in a person’s actions for that person to be guilty of committing a hate crime and subjected to the penalties brought forth under current hate crime statutes.

For a person to be guilty of a hate crime, he or she has to commit a crime and be motivated in choosing the victim of that crime at least in part by the victim’s race, sexual orientation or the like. It does not matter in the slightest whether the person committing the crime generally loves, hates or is indifferent to people who have the characteristics that he or she was motivated by in choosing the person he or she chose.

Hate crime statutes are implemented to deter people from selecting victims based on certain characteristics, especially those in which differences between people have historically been the source of conflict and abuse. They are necessary to help achieve that end.

Insofar as people are being attacked and abused for having certain characteristics — which seems to be at least indirectly related to the success and prevalence of hate groups — as they work tirelessly to spread and promote prejudicial attitudes against people with specific traits to anyone who will listen, we are absolutely justified in implementing hate crime statutes to protect people that need to be protected.

Reach Austin at acyost@asu.edu

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