Hate crime

A hate crime (also known as a bias-motivated crime or bias crime[1]) is a prejudice-motivated crime which occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of their membership (or perceived membership) in a certain social group or race.

Examples of such groups can include, and are almost exclusively limited to: sex, ethnicity, disability, language, nationality, physical appearance, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.[2][3][4] Non-criminal actions that are motivated by these reasons are often called "bias incidents".

"Hate crime" generally refers to criminal acts which are seen to have been motivated by bias against one or more of the social groups listed above, or by bias against their derivatives. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, mate crime or offensive graffiti or letters (hate mail).[5]

A hate crime law is a law intended to deter bias-motivated violence.[6] Hate crime laws are distinct from laws against hate speech: hate crime laws enhance the penalties associated with conduct which is already criminal under other laws, while hate speech laws criminalize a category of speech. Hate speech laws exist in many countries. In the United States, hate speech laws have been upheld by both the Supreme Court[7] and lower courts, especially in the case of 'fighting' words and other violent speech, but are thought by some to be in conflict with the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Hate crimes are only regulated through threats of injury or death.

History

The term "hate crime" came into common usage in the United States during the 1980s, but it is often used retrospectively in order to describe events which occurred prior to that era.[8] From the Roman persecution of Christians to the Nazi slaughter of Jews, hate crimes were committed by individuals as well as governments long before the term was commonly used.[4] A major part of defining crimes as hate crimes is determining that they have been committed against members of historically oppressed groups.[9][10]

As Europeans began to colonize the world from the 16th century onwards, indigenous peoples in the colonized areas, such as Native Americans increasingly became the targets of bias-motivated intimidation and violence.[citation needed] During the past two centuries, typical examples of hate crimes in the U.S. include lynchings of African Americans, largely in the South, and lynchings of Mexicans and Chinese in the West; cross burnings in order to intimidate black activists or drive black families out of predominantly white neighborhoods both during and after Reconstruction; assaults on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; the painting of swastikas on Jewish synagogues; and xenophobic responses to a variety of minority ethnic groups.[11]

Postcard of the Duluth lynchings of African-American men on June 15, 1920

The verb "to lynch" is attributed to the actions of Charles Lynch, an 18th-century Virginia Quaker. Lynch, other militia officers, and justices of the peace rounded up Tory sympathizers who were given a summary trial at an informal court; sentences which were handed down included whipping, property seizure, coerced pledges of allegiance, and conscription into the military. Originally, the term referred to the extrajudicial organized but unauthorized punishment of criminals. It later evolved to describe executions which were committed outside "ordinary justice." It is highly associated with white suppression of African Americans in the South, and periods of weak or nonexistent police authority, as in certain frontier areas of the Old West.[4]