NVAA 2000 Text

Chapter 22 Special Topics

Section 1, Hate and Bias Crime


Hate and bias crimes are motivated by hatred against a victim based upon his or her race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or national origin and pose unique challenges for victim service providers. The victim and, indeed, the entire community are detrimentally affected by hate and bias crimes. The unique needs of hate and bias crime victims require heightened sensitivity from victim service, law enforcement, and criminal justice professionals.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this section, students will understand the following concepts:

Statistical Overview


Hate/bias attacks on targeted minorities are not new to American culture, but the dominant adult majority has had, until recently, only limited direct exposure to its negative effects. Many find themselves both dumbfounded and often incapacitated by the intensely destructive nature of these crimes that wreak considerable havoc in this country. What has stunned society, however, is the random objectification and subsequent persecution of individuals, such that in the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, a Caucasian star athlete, an African-American computer whiz, and a devout Christian were equally vulnerable to attack. All evoked the hatred of two teenage killers. As the cultural plane subject to hate/bias attack continues to expand, social psychologists have intensified their investigations of its recent origins and the motivations of its perpetrators.

Caricatures like the card-carrying Klan member who attacks African-Americans and the skinheads who prey on gays do little to explain the complex social, economic, and psychological characteristics that have given rise to hate/bias abuse. While it is clear that some individuals and groups who victimize people and destroy property act out of a perverse sense of entitlement and superiority, many others are obsessed by their fear, insecurity, and limited ability to provide for their families, combined with an overwhelming urge to hurt those whom they have designated as scapegoats to explain their own powerlessness or failures. A deeper understanding of the wide-ranging origins, motivations, and psychoses that generate hate/bias crime can help law enforcement professionals better identify offenders and protect the communities that potential offenders have targeted for attack.

More importantly, researchers of hate/bias violence have turned their attention to the special needs of hate/bias crime victims who experience not only physical injuries and/or property damage, but also are faced with their inevitable vulnerability as members of a targeted group and the often associated social and psychological consequences. It is this vulnerability due to membership in a specific population or targeted group that can lead to a sense of helplessness or even hopelessness for victims of hate/bias crime. In many instances, the group membership that is targeted by racists is an inherent characteristic of the victim, i.e., one that cannot be changed. To be targeted because of one's ethnicity, religion, gender--personal characteristics that should inspire only pride and should offer an individual a sense of affiliation, belonging, and support--is nothing less than an assassination of own's own sense of self. This sense of vulnerability can lead to pervasive fear that can also prevent victims of hate/bias crime from associating with other members of the targeted group for fear of increasing their odds of being victimized.

Today, policymakers, law enforcement, criminal justice, and victim assistance professionals are reviewing their protocols in dealing with the unique needs of victims of hate/bias crime and forming multi-agency task forces that can respond sensitively to the victimization, investigate quickly and thoroughly, and prevent repetition of these assaults. Victim advocates and allied professionals are beginning to understand the devastating impact of hate crime in targeted communities. By analyzing and coming to terms with their own inherent biases, they are learning to communicate more effectively with the hate crime victim population. Advocates should make every effort to assist victims of hate/bias crime to obtain the services they need but to which they have often had little or no access.

Hate/Bias Crimes: Government Policy and Practice


The Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 defines that hate/bias crimes "manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, including where appropriate the crimes of murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation, arson, and destruction, damage, or vandalism of property." According to A Policymaker's Guide to Hate Crimes (BJA 1997), fewer than half of the states have adopted the federal definition while some have added other victim categories such as physical disability, color, creed, ancestry, mental disability, and gender.

It is important to note that Massachusetts, one of the earliest states to tackle the hate crime issue, defined hate crimes as "criminal acts that are motivated in part or whole by bias or bigotry directed at a victim due to that victim's race/ethnicity/national origin/religion/

sexual orientation or handicapped status."

Universally there are distinctions made regarding bias motivated crimes and bias motivated incidents (noncriminal acts). In spite of federal and state laws that have since been enacted, there is still confusion over the definition of hate and bias crime victims. The definition of hate and bias crime in the Federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 should provide direction to the field on what constitutes hate/bias crimes. The Act states that hate/bias crimes are crimes motivated by "hatred against a victim based on his or her race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or national origin."


In March of 1997, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) of the U.S. Department of Justice, released a national report entitled A Policymaker's Guide to Hate Crimes. The report was in response to a request from Attorney General Janet Reno to conduct an assessment of laws and strategies designed to fight, gauge, and prevent bias-motivated offenses. Several important initiatives addressing hate and bias crimes are addressed in the report. The monograph examines the significant strides made by the federal government in creating a baseline of raw data on hate crimes and the problems that impede the reporting of hate crime incidents. In addition, the report summarizes current state laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding hate crimes. Initiatives that have been undertaken in the private sector, such as by civil rights groups, are also highlighted. Finally, the report discusses preventive measures and strategies for dealing with hate crime offenders that have been undertaken in some communities across the nation.

The major legislative and public policy initiatives on the federal, state, and local levels between 1992-1997 are summarized below (BJA 1997):

The report also summarized important initiatives that have been undertaken on the federal level. Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice have taken the following major steps towards combating hate crimes:

The U.S. Department of Education has also supported key initiatives in response to hate/bias crimes. For example, in 1996, under the Department of Education's Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Federal Activities Grants Program, $2 million was made available to public agencies and private nonprofit organizations for developing and implementing innovative strategies designed to prevent and reduce the incidence of hate crimes in communities.

In 1996, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), within the U.S. Department of Justice, supported the development of a national training and technical project that produced A Training Curriculum to Improve the Treatment of Victims of Bias Crimes by the Educational Development Center in Boston, Massachusetts. The project offers training for law enforcement and victim assistance professionals. Project materials emphasize that while hate/bias crimes are similar to other crimes, they present unique challenges to victim-serving professionals because of the often-devastating psychological impact on the victim and the victim's community. The training curriculum is available through OVC's Resource Center.

Hate/Bias Crime Offenders

In their report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (NCCPV) entitled Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, Hugh Davis and Ted Gurr (1969) proposed an interesting, albeit dated, claim that violence in the United States is rooted in six historical events that are deeply imbedded in our national character:

1. Revolutionary doctrine in the Declaration of Independence.

2. A prolonged frontier experience that tended to legitimize violence and vigilante justice.

3. A competitive hierarchy of immigrants conducive to violence.

4. Pervasive fear of government power and regulations.

5. Industrial Revolution that produced massive migration to big cities thereby causing widespread dislocation.

6. Unmatched prosperity combined with unequal distribution of opportunity, rising class revolution, frustration, and violence.

The current spate of hate/bias-related violence on school campuses in America and the atrocities heaped on innocent victims on other continents have prompted researchers to revisit these events and the societal changes they launched to better understand the rationales behind the individual and group violence that is wreaking havoc on the lives of targeted peoples and communities. What kinds of people commit hate/bias crimes, what are their motivations, and what are the proactive measures that can be taken to prevent this violence that pervades our society?

Although hate/bias offenders do not necessarily fit neatly into definitional categories, Levin and McDermitt of Northeastern University (1993) have identified three general types of hate/bias offenders: thrill-seeking offenders, reactive offenders, and mission offenders.


Hate/bias groups typically develop during a period of intense immigration, such as the 1920s; periods when disenfranchised groups try to increase their political and economic power, such as the Civil Rights Movement; and periods of economic instability during which people seek scapegoats to blame for high unemployment, such as the recession of the late 1980s. Although hate/bias groups have, at times, been powerful forces in American political life--generally through violence and intimidation--they have a tendency to fragment because of internal dissension. Explicitly racist, traditional white supremacist groups consider all people of color to be subhuman (although homophobia has been added to their agenda). They blame the federal government, communism, and international conspiracies for the nation's problems.

While hate/bias crimes have predominately been directed at African Americans, hate/bias crimes committed by African Americans have been "escalating at an alarming rate," according to Klanwatch, a Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. From 1991 to the end of 1993, 46 percent of all racially motivated homicides tracked by Klanwatch were committed by African Americans on white, Asian, or Hispanic victims (Kapler 1993, 3). Statistics that would demonstrate that African American hate/bias crime offenders operate in organized groups like their Caucasian counterparts are not available; however, it is clear that in the incident-provoked Los Angeles riots of 1992 and the attacks on Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, racially-motivated groups were responsible for the violent attacks on Caucasians and other minorities.

In 1995, it was estimated that there were no fewer than 20,000 and possibly no more than 50,000 members of white supremacist groups in the United States who fell into the over-lapping categories of Ku Klux Klan groups, neo-Nazi groups, Christian identity groups, and skinheads. Among the white teenagers and young adults called "skinheads," Wooden found that they could be divided into two groups: racist skinheads, who were considered bullies in grammar school, abused as children, and favored violence in the lyrics of their music, and teenage Satanists, who were products of strict religious upbringing. Only 15 percent of bias crimes are committed by organized hate groups, but most of this can be attributed to skinheads who used self-identity tactics such as their fists, boots, bats, and knives. While their attacks appear to be spontaneous, law enforcement agencies have recently implicated skinheads in organized violence involving firearms and bombs against selected targets.

Members of white supremacist groups tend to employ melodramatic iconography to identify their activities. Ritual items, such as white hoods, burning crosses, pendragons, gothic symbols, and burnings/hangings in effigy, represent the work of organized hate/bias groups and are often found at the site of a ceremony or an act of violence. Furthermore, youths tend to be obvious when they are cruising for victims. For example, a large roving group of teenagers with shaved heads carrying baseball bats wandering aimlessly in the aftermath of a major racial incident or court trial may indicate a hate/bias crime in the offing.

The overlaps between hate crimes and racially-motivated gang attacks and increased acts of domestic terrorism have led some researchers and political leaders to call for a new definition of hate/bias crimes, one that might include crimes motivated by a hatred of people, not because of their race, national origin, sex, sexual preference, and religion but because of their affiliations or occupation. A 1997 BJA monograph on hate/bias crimes reports on a planning meeting at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, where researchers, academicians, and federal experts in the fields of hate crimes and terrorism "struggled to identify the connections between hate crimes and terrorism and to develop a definition of bias-motivated activity that might embrace the concepts of both." They concluded, however that even though hate crimes and terrorism share "overlapping pathology and actors," it was more important to concentrate their efforts on the identification of the differences between a hate group follower and someone who commits bias-motivated violence, and what actions might be taken to prompt them to reject racist, anti-Semitic, or antigovernment ideologies. "We must try to understand what leads people in, what they do when they're in, and what leads people out," said Jerrold Post of George Washington University (BJA 1997).

(Portions of the preceding section are excerpted from National Bias Crime Training: For Law Enforcement and Victim Assistance Professionals, Office for Victims of Crime, 1995.)

The Impact of Hate/Bias Crime on Victims and the Community

The results of hate/bias crimes can be devastating to cultures for generations to come. Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jews is firmly linked to the psyche of all Jews conscious of their heritage and history. The courage of the Jewish people to survive has inspired other groups to unite in a harmonious movement toward peace. The memory of the Holocaust will never subside; the pain, indelibly stamped on the wrists of many of the survivors, is a reminder of their victimization and clear cry of "Never again."

The results of slavery--man's inhumanity to man at its worst--resound throughout America, Africa, and Spain. The antebellum plantations belonging to the great-grandparents of today's baby boomers remain wonderful places to visit replete with rich cultural histories that nevertheless omit most references to the lash, the rapes, and the hangings. As Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King so aptly explained, "The chains of slavery have been removed from our wrists and ankles 300 years ago, but the chains of slavery are still on our minds." Much is said about the progress of African-American people in America, yet for many of them this so-called progress is considered a lie. Obviously, much work remains to be done.

The treachery of racial bias continues in some urban police forces today. In 1999, for example, four elite New York City police officers shot and killed Amadu Diallo, an unarmed African street vendor (who was not a suspect) at the door of his apartment building. The officers fired forty-one bullets at Mr. Diallo, hitting him nineteen times. While the police have stated that their actions were the result of a mistaken identity and a belief that he was armed, many have argued that Mr. Diallo's tragic death was a result of racial prejudice.

At the same time, law enforcement has made great strides forward in the creation of infrastructures for interagency collaboration that can quickly diagnose hate/bias crime, and effectively investigate and bring alleged offenders to trial. In October 1993, through an anonymous telephone call, a member of the Aryan Liberation Front claimed responsibility for setting fire to the offices of the Japanese-American Citizens League, the home of an Asian-American city councilman, and the State Office of Fair Employment and Housing in Sacramento, CA. He had also attempted to commit arson at a Jewish temple and to burn the offices of the local NAACP. With the help of informants, a tape recording of his telephone call, and a computerized database of white supremacists in the area, a task force from the Sacramento Police Department identified and arrested an eighteen-year-old white male within a month. He was later convicted of all counts of hate-motivated arson.

To expedite the solving of this white supremacist crime, both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms made significant contributions to the investigation. The FBI canvassed the crime scene for witnesses, conducted in-state and out-of-state interviews on white supremacists, and provided technical assistance in tracing telephone calls and analyzing physical evidence at the FBI Laboratory. The BATF contributed expert arson investigators to the task force who examined the arson scenes, collected evidence, and conducted "state-of-the-art" laboratory analysis. As an example of the effectiveness of a multi-agency collaboration to bring hate/bias activity under control and arrest the offender, Sacramento's hate/bias task force serves as a model for other communities (BJA Clearinghouse 1997).


Not only are bias crimes more likely than any other kind of personal attack to be seriously injurious or lethal, these crimes have many psychological and social repercussions that are extremely destructive to the victim, the victim's family, and the victim's community.

First, from the victim's point of view, the purpose of hate/bias crimes adds the extra dimensions of fear and devaluation to the victimization. Someone has been targeted due to a core characteristic of his or her identity that cannot be changed. If membership in a target group is readily visible, the victim may feel particularly vulnerable to a repeat attack that can result in a feeling of hopelessness. The fears are also exacerbated because society has been slower to respond to hate/bias crimes than to random "stranger" crimes. The victim may then become afraid to associate with other members of the group who have been targeted or may resist seeking needed services, believing that these actions will increase his or her vulnerability.

Second, from a cultural point of view, hate/bias crimes, also motivated in part by fear, escalate when members of the dominant culture think that they are under attack and they justify their violent acts as courageous efforts taken to protect their life style, their country, or their white heritage. The group mentality, under the guise of "bravery," supports increasingly vicious acts of violence, for which responsibility is inevitably diffused and further relieves any single individual of taking the blame for the group action (Young 1993).

Third, hate/bias crime offenders often target places of worship. These attacks on sacred spiritual symbols affect individual victims more profoundly than other acts of vandalism.


(Portions of the following section are excerpted from National Bias Crime Training: For Law Enforcement and Victim Assistance Professionals, Office for Victims of Crime, 1995.)

Bias crime victims experience many of the same difficulties and traumas as victims of other crimes, but hate/bias crimes create a secondary long-term crisis that profoundly alters victims' relationships to their communities. Victims of hate/bias crime may experience physical injuries, financial losses, and psychological traumas in response to the initial crisis as well as long-term reactions to stress.

A secondary injury is the victim's perceived rejection by and lack of expected support from the community. Many victims experience secondary injury as they attempt to deal with the systems that provide physical or mental health care, process insurance claims to recover loss, or prosecute offenders. Often professionals who work within the system that serves the victim have the same prejudices and bias as the rest of society and may minimize the impact of the crime on the individual. Hate/bias crime victims feel betrayed and hopeless when they confront institutional prejudice.

Professionals must be particularly skillful at recognizing the needs of those who are on the periphery, yet traumatized. Services and resources should be established and in place so that the healing process can be a holistic one. The concept of support can happen more easily if the community joins in the process with the victim(s). The scope of hate/bias crime is such that many of these tragic occurrences can happen simultaneously. Under such circumstances, the trauma can escalate out of control, and victim service professionals may be challenged in their efforts to advocate and assist effectively. Therefore it is necessary to develop adequate and updated resources and services, with an emphasis on sensitive delivery of such services.

Victim Assistance Professionals: Counseling and Advocacy

To adequately meet the needs of victims of hate/bias crime, the victim assistance professional must understand the cultural factors that affect the behavior of victims within their communities. They must frankly come to terms with their personal obstacles or inherent biases (if any) towards the targeted group and acknowledge that uncertainty about cultural considerations is widespread among professionals and often compounded by the lack of agency support for working in the community.

In first dealing with victims of hate/bias crime, the victim advocate should--

If the victim of hate/bias crime enters the criminal or juvenile justice system, the victims assistance professional's job is to intervene in the following ways on the victim's behalf with the various agencies:

Working constructively with the targeted community and the law enforcement agencies after hate/bias crime incidents is essential to rebuilding trust, reducing fear, stemming possible retaliation, and preventing additional bias crimes. Victim assistance professionals should work to--

(Portions of this section are excerpted from National Bias Crime Training: For Law Enforcement and Victim Assistance Professionals, Office for Victims of Crime, 1995.)

Promising Practices

Hate and Bias Crime Self-Examination

1. Discuss some of the unique needs that victims of hate/bias crime may have.

2. List two major governmental initiatives in combating hate/bias crime.

3. Name two "types" of hate/bias offenders and give examples of each.

4. What kind of impact can hate/bias crime have upon a community?

5. What are some of the effects that hate/bias crime can have upon a victim?

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2000 NVAA Text
Chapter 22.1
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