Hate Crimes Legislation

Jurist’s Paper Chase reports that the House of Representatives, by a vote of 281-146, passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (the federal hate crimes legislation) as part of the larger Defense Authorization Act of 2010 (it is at page 1471 of the 1515 page H.R. 2467) to address an issue that has been an unfortunate part of American history: crimes of hatred and prejudice that include lynching, cross burning and vandalism of synagogues. In 1990, Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, to collect data “about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” Since then, the FBI has published hate crime statistics every year. Reports for the years 1995 to 2007, available on the FBI website, breaks down hate crime statistics by type. The 2007 version reports 7,624 hate crime incidents involving 9,006 offenses from 2,025 law enforcement agencies. The 2008 report is due out this fall.

  • Race – 4,724 offenses (Anti-White – 18.4 %, Anti-Black – 69.3 %, Anti-American Indian/Alaskan Native – 1.6%, Anti-Asian/Pacific Islander – 4.6 %)
  • Religion – 1,477 offenses (Anti-Jewish – 68.4%, Anti-Catholic – 4.4%, Anti-Protestant – 4.0%, Anti-Islamic – 9.0%, Anti-Atheism/Agnosticism – 0.4%)
  • Sexual Orientation – 1,460 offenses (Anti-Male Homosexual – 59.2%, Anti-Female Homosexual –12.6%, Anti-Heterosexual – 1.8%, Anti-Bisexual – 1.6%)
  • Ethnicity/National Origin – 1,256 offenses (Anti-Hispanic – 61.7% and other – 38.3%)
    Disability – 82 offenses (Anti-Physical – 62 offenses and Anti-Mental – 20 offenses)
Passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act seems likely as in July the Senate passed a comparable bill (S.909) and President Obama has promised to sign the legislation into law. Besides questioning the inclusion of hate crimes legislation in an unrelated military appropriations bill, critics have raised First Amendment free speech and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection concerns as well as double jeopardy concerns. See for example Nat Hentoff’s article ‘Thought Crimes’ Bill Advances. The Assistant Attorney General Office of Legislative Affairs wrote a Memorandum Opinion that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act is constitutional.

The Brooklyn Law School Library’s collection has several items on hate crimes laws including Hate Crimes: a Reference Handbook by Donald Altschiller (Call #HV6773.52 .A47 2005) with chapters: History of hate crimes legislation — Executive branch — U.S. Supreme Court decisions — Hate crimes legislation at the state level — Critics of hate crime laws — Recent hate crimes — Some major targeted groups — Hate crimes around the world — Gays and lesbians — Jews.

See also Scapegoats of September 11th: Hate Crimes & State Crimes in the War on Terror by Michael Welch (Call #HV6431 .W444 2006) including chapter titled Talking about terror — Seeking a safer society — Scapegoating and social insecurity — Crusading against terror — Hate crimes as backlash violence — Profiling and detention in post-9/11 America — State crimes in the war on terror — Claiming effectiveness — Assaulting civil liberties.
See also Violence, Prejudice and Sexuality by Stephen Tomsen (Call #HV6250.4.H66 T67 2009) with ‘Homophobia’ and the social context of sexual prejudice — Violence and ‘hate crime’ — Researching anti-homosexual killings — Killings as ‘hate crimes’? — Male honour and the ‘homosexual advance’.