Bias and Hate Crimes
Given that our society has such a dense population of different races, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations, it is important to understand both the goals and challenges of policing and dealing with hate and bias crimes. Considering that since the beginning stages of immigration we have tried to support successful assimilation, hate and bias crimes create a huge barrier.
Hate and bias crimes “occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her membership in a certain social group, usually defined by race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation” (en. wikipedia. org). Not only is it difficult for our society to identify this sort of crime, but it is also extremely hard to enact comprehensive laws governing the way police and society as a whole should handle these crimes.
An important problem associated with bias and hate crimes is distinguishing them from other “everyday” crimes; often, the terms are used interchangeably.
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Law enforcement as well as the general public should understand that bias and hate crimes are in many ways the same crimes that are committed everyday, but that hate and bias crimes are committed intentionally against a person because of a certain bias and are usually much more violent.
Furthermore, deciding how offenders should be identified and punished is sometimes problematic “because motivation is subjective, [and] it is often difficult for police officers to determine whether an offense was motivated by bias” (Katz, pg 301) Our constitution, as well as the laws which followed it, were written to ensure that “every citizen, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, background, age, or culture [receives] the highest level of service available and equal treatment under the law” (www. wppd. org).
Yet, hate and bias crimes have become such a major issue in our country that goals like high service and equality are being threatened. As a result, Congress passed the “Hate Crimes Prevention Act’ of 1999” on March 11, 1999. Congress developed this act due to the growing concern that “the problem of hate crimes is sufficiently serious, widespread, and interstate in nature as to warrant Federal assistance to States and local jurisdictions” (thomas. loc. gov). This concern stemmed largely from the continuing realization that “bias crimes affect victims not only physically, but also at the very core of their identity, creating a sense of ulnerability heightened beyond that normally found in crime victims…Such crimes violate not only society’s general concern for the security of its members and their property, but also the shared values of equality and racial and religious harmony in a multicultural society. 11 (Lawrence, pg 50-51). While the 1999 Hate Crimes Prevention Act was a large step toward streamlining our definitions of and positions toward hate crimes, there is still a long way to go. Hate and bias crimes not only effect the individuals involved, but they also have a strong effect on our communities.
Currently, one of the most effective ways of dealing with hate and bias crimes is involving the police and the punishment of those who committ them. Every state and even individual police departments currently determine their own policies when it comes to identifying and reporting bias and hate crimes. In recent years, many studies have been done in order to determine whether the adoption of uniform hate crime policies is effective at the local level. A study done in California found that “formal policies positively influence police behavior.
Having a hate crime policy may increase an agency’s propensity to report hate crime by as much as 25%” (repositories. cdlib. org). Still, while this might be a helpful step, it is still tough to define, identify and fairly deal with bias crimes on a case-by-case basis. There is still no clearly-defined code given to officers concerning how to deal with hate and bias crimes, and because every situation is different and deserves individual attention, police officers are given a certain amount of discretion.