The FBI defines 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, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
In layman’s terms, a hate crime is a traditional crime, like murder or assault, that the offender committed because they didn’t like something about the victim. It’s not illegal to think that another race, gender, etc is inferior or bad, it’s just illegal for those thoughts to lead to violent or negative actions.
What’s the Point of Hate Crime Laws?
When a crime is considered a hate crime, the penalties are almost always more severe. Although some debate the validity of hate crime laws, the reason these laws exist is to deter more hate crimes from being committed and because if there is an extra level of malice involved.
When Did it Start?
In the US hate crime laws popped up right after the Civil War. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 outline several crimes that are now considered hate crimes. These laws mainly dealt with crimes committed against African-Americans.
Another major step for hate crimes came in the 1980s when legislation made it illegal to,”by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.”
Modern Hate Crime Laws
Today’s hate crime laws have become more broad. One of the biggest moves for hate crime laws was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. This act expanded coverage to include sexual orientation, gender, disability and gender identity.
This act also expanded the laws in several other ways.
- Removed the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity, like voting or going to school.
- Provided $5 million per year in funding for fiscal years 2010 through 2012 to help state and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.
- Gave federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue.
- Required the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes based on gender and gender identity.