Groundbreaking Analysis of Hate Crime Laws Finds Limitations and Opportunities in the Face of Rising Hate Violence
With a rise in hate violence across the country, a new report from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), NCTE, and 15 more leading civil rights organizations provides a groundbreaking analysis of state and federal hate crime laws. The report features a foreword by Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard and Board/Chair President of the Matthew Shephard Foundation. (Read the report.)
The report provides a comprehensive look at both the opportunities and limitations of hate crime laws as a means of preventing and addressing hate violence. While responding to hate violence is imperative, the report finds that hate crime laws across the country are inconsistent and provide complex and incomplete methods of addressing hate violence. This analysis comes amid a spike in hate crimes in recent years – and as the country is examining racial justice and racial bias in our criminal justice system.
“At a time of rising hate violence, we need to re-examine and expand our responses. Hate crime laws serve a necessary purpose, but they are inconsistent, sometimes flawed, and can even harm the very communities they are meant to serve. We need to improve our hate crime laws and engage in broader solutions to reducing hate in our country. Like any law, hate crime laws alone won’t fix a problem as large as rising hate violence,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of MAP, an independent think tank focused on equality for all.
“Transgender people – and particularly Black and Latina transgender women – are marginalized, stigmatized and criminalized in our country. They face violence every day,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “This important report is critical in the work to stem the violence targeting transgender people. But it’s just the beginning. Our solutions must reflect the scope of the problem, which requires increased access to safe, affordable housing, policies that protect transgender people from discrimination, increased economic opportunity and improved police training.”
The partners releasing the report are: Anti-Defamation League, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC (Advancing Justice – AAJC), Equality Federation Institute, James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, Lambda Legal, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Matthew Shepard Foundation, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Council of Jewish Women, National Disability Rights Network, Sikh Coalition, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Union of Reform Judaism.
Hate Crime Laws Vary Widely Across the Country
The report finds that federal and state governments vary widely in their responses to hate violence. This complex patchwork means that someone who experiences a hate crime may have a completely different set of protections, options or access to resources depending on where the crime occurs.
The report analyzes state hate crime statutes across more than 10 distinct characteristics. The common element across state hate crime laws is the use of criminal punishment, typically through sentencing enhancements.
Challenges of Addressing Hate Violence Through the Criminal Justice System
Addressing hate violence when it happens is imperative. State hate crime laws provide avenues for responding to hate crimes, but they also highlight the challenges inherent in the criminal justice system. These challenges illustrate paths forward for both improving hate crime laws and responding more comprehensively to hate violence:
- Failing to address root causes of violence, as current hate crime laws focus on punishing people charged with hate crimes without challenging underlying biases at the individual and broader societal levels. Additionally, harsher sentencing has not been shown to deter crime.
- Widespread bias in the criminal justice system results in significant racial disparities, as well as disparities for LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and low-income people. These are often the very communities that are targeted for hate violence. Evidence shows that, for example, even though the majority of hate crimes are committed by white people, many states’ law-enforcement-recorded hate crimes disproportionately list Black people as offenders.
- Flaws in hate crime data collection and reporting are widespread, and the current system of federal data collection relies only on the voluntary participation of law enforcement. Additionally, victims of hate crimes may be wary of reporting the crime to the police if they do not trust the police.
- Changing the intent of the law, for example, by attempting to add police officers – a profession – as a protected class in hate crime laws, despite the fact that all 50 states already have criminal statutes that specifically address and punish violence against a law enforcement officer.
Expanding Solutions to Address Hate Violence
The report highlights opportunities for both improving hate crime laws and better supporting communities affected by hate violence:
- Investing in communities that are harmed by hate violence, such as people of color, LGBTQ people, people of minority faiths, and disabled people. Expanding nondiscrimination protections and investing in social safety nets will help reduce the instability caused by discrimination. In turn, this reduces vulnerable communities’ exposure to potential violence.
- Preventing violence through work that not only aims to reduce hate crimes, but also works to reduce hate and violence overall.
- Improving law enforcement accountability and training, including addressing how law enforcement can disproportionately harm vulnerable communities.
- Improving data collection can help connect people impacted by hate crimes to resources and support. More robust data can also support more tailored responses to hate violence, track potential disparities or bias in the enforcement of hate crime laws, and evaluate the efficacy of non-carceral responses to hate crime.
- Shifting focus toward support and healing, such as through expanded measures to support victims and survivors of hate crimes, community education and response strategies, and non-carceral approaches to justice.
“As our country continues to grapple with racial injustice, bias in the criminal justice system, and rising hate violence against too many communities, it is critical that we reexamine our responses to hate crimes. It’s clear that additional solutions are needed to address hate violence, including a careful review of how hate crime laws in their current and potential forms fit into the work of building safe communities for everyone,” said Mushovic.