A hate crime is a usually violent crime often motivated by race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other factors. 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.”
These cases can be hard to convict. First, the prosecution needs to prove that the crime was specifically motivated by hate. There are not any national agencies that keep track of this data nationwide, but some states keep track of hate crime statistics. For example, California saw 138 cases of hate crimes in 2015; however, only 59 of those resulted in hate crime convictions.
Benjamin Wagner, former U.S. Attorney for California’s Eastern District, has prosecuted many hate crimes during his 25-year career. He said:
“You need to prove not just the incident, but the state of mind of the defendant — that what they intended was hate-motivated. That’s never easy and often involves not just looking at the incident, but going back and investigating the background of the defendant.”
There are many ways to find evidence of a hateful motivation behind a crime. Some of those methods include:
- Defendant’s involvement with any hate groups
- Possession of hateful literature
- Hateful graffiti or tattoos
- The date of the incident
- The criminal’s history
In the U.S., 45 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws, but the way they are prosecuted can vary. The penalty is increased if the hate crime can be proven. Many prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute hate crimes because they are more difficult to prove.
For one high-profile example, Dylann Roof went to a prayer study at the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. He sat in on their study group for an hour before opening fire on them and killing nine.
After the incident, investigators found a website with pictures of Roof holding a Confederate flag and Nazi symbols. He also had a manifesto supporting segregation and declaring Black people inferior.
With this proof, the shooter was convicted on 33 counts of hate crimes. He awaits sentencing this month.
After President-elect Donald Trump’s victory, there were hundreds of hate crimes committed in those first few weeks. Trump and his racist supporters stirred up all kinds of violence and harassment. This should be a priority for the new administration, but somehow, I don’t see that happening.
We need a better system to be able to convict everyone who commits hate crimes because the number of incidents may go up under President Trump.
Featured image via YouTube screenshot.