Why Hate Crimes in the US are Surging

Hate crimes in the US are surging. It is an ugly truth for a nation proud of its heritage of faith and freedom and whose population keeps growing more and more diverse. Diversity and inclusion remain a challenge to pursue.

Yes, there was its dark history of slavery and segregation, but America is in the new millennium, in the 21st century; racism and bigotry should have long been in the dustbin of the past. However, an FBI report late last year noted that law enforcement agencies reported 5,479 hate crime incidents involving 6,418 offenses to our Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program in 2014. And these crimes—which often have a devastating impact on the communities where they occur—left 6,727 victims in their wake. 

One highlight of that report is 47% of the 5,462 single-bias incidents reported in 2014 were motivated by race. Other motivators of hate crimes noted were sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, and gender.

Hate Crimes Based on Race

Just recently, in Staten Island, NY, a black teenager died while being chased by a group of white teenagers who were shouting racial slurs at him. The New York Daily News reports that the fatal incident began outside of a hamburger restaurant last Friday. McKenzie and his friends were outside the restaurant when they came across a group of white teenagers. According to one of McKenzie’s friends, Harry Smith, the two groups got into an argument. The fight ended when the white teenagers left. But things turned violent when that group drove back and started chasing McKenzie and his friends. 

However, another news reported that the death of 16-year-old Dayshen McKenzie does not appear to be a hate crime, as police said, and to which his mother agreed. […] the police said on Friday that it appeared to have resulted from a preplanned encounter between rival street gangs that ended with Mr. McKenzie running and suffering an asthma attack. Though anguished by the suggestion that her son was in a gang, the boy’s mother, Tisha Richardson, agreed that her son’s condition had caused his death. The racial slur was a casual expression among youth, she said, not evidence of a hate crime.
Just a casual expression among youth? Perhaps so, but is this enough excuse to dismiss it as a non-hate crime?

Yet an ex-cop witnessed the mostly white crew shouting racial epithets and waving a gun. […] “To me, it’s murder,” said Diane Fatigati, an ex-NYPD officer and 9/11 responder, who rushed to the aid of the dying McKenzie. “They were chasing him — that’s a crime. You’re hunting them because they’re black … You’re calling them a n—-r.” The case is still awaiting hate crime investigators.

Hate Crimes Based on Religion

As mentioned above, there are other motivators for hate crimes, including religion. Last year, attacks on Muslims in the US rose after the deadly November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. A report by the NY Times said the spike includes assaults on hijab-wearing students; arsons and vandalism at mosques; and shootings and death threats at Islamic-owned businesses, an analysis by a California State University research group has found. […] “The terrorist attacks, coupled with the ubiquity of these anti-Muslim stereotypes seeping into the mainstream, have emboldened people to act upon this fear and anger,” said Brian Levin, a criminologist at California State University, San Bernardino.

Note the mention of fear and anger.

LGBTs and people with disabilities are a common target, as well of hate crimes. One article talks of gender-based hate crimes. What compounds the situation is the “patchy reporting” of hate crimes around the country, a report said. Advocates worry that the lack of a comprehensive, annual accounting disguises the extent of bias crimes at a time of heightened racial, religious, and ethnic tensions. […] community groups have reported a notable increase in violence against Muslims and mosques in the wake of last year’s terror acts in Paris and San Bernardino, California. Gay and transgender people also are regular targets. 

What are hate crimes? And why is there a surge in such crimes?

Hate crimes generally refers to criminal acts that are seen to have been motivated by bias against one or more of the types above, or of 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). 

The FBI definition

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined 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.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.- See here

Why do people hate?

It’s all in the brain. A scientific study on the origin of hate, undertaken by a team of neurobiologists, showed that hate is activated in the brain, unlike love which is considered an emotion of the heart. A so-called ‘hate circuit’ exists in the frontal part of the brain, which is involved in judging someone and predicting their behavior. 

Many factors determine why we hate, but a common factor is fear. Being afraid. And fear arises from a lack of trust, knowledge or information about someone or something, among others. We are afraid of the strange unknown, and this can color our perception or our understanding. It can create more fear, anxiety and worry. We ask “What if?” Hence, fear of this kind, due to ignorance, can lead to prejudice or biases, as this study shows. Here, we see a different kind of fear displayed – the fear of losing the power of privilege.

Fear and Ignorance

At the heart of prejudice lies two concepts: ignorance and fear. All of us tend to have prejudicial attitudes towards others. This type of prejudice or “pre-judgment” is based on ignorance. It is a normal human response to racial, social, sexual and other forms of differences, because all human beings tend to prejudge others on the basis of limited knowledge, especially if they are different from us. […]

Privilege and Power

The study paper continues. The other factor is fear, and this one goes much deeper than ignorance, for its strikes at the root of prejudice, the issue of privilege and power. In prejudice, people are basically defending privilege of position and thus stand to gain emotionally, culturally, socially and economically from an attitude of prejudice towards others. […]when people use their position of power, be it political or institutional, to reinforce their prejudices and to enforce them so that as a result of their racial prejudices the life chances, rights and opportunities of others are limited, the result is racism.

Loyalty to One’s Identified Group

As for racism, many believe that neuroscience is involved as well. There is what is called conditioned racism, or ethnocentrism. This is defined as: the view that our own ethnic group we strongly identify with, our so-called in-group, is the center of everything. And this gives rise to strong negative attitudes, such as contempt, hostility and hatred, towards any out-group.

The relation of comradeship and peace in the we-group and that of hostility and war towards others-groups are correlative to each other. The exigencies of war with outsiders are what make peace inside… Loyalty to the group, sacrifice for it, hatred and contempt for outsiders, brotherhood within, warlikeness without—all grow together, common products of the same situation.”

The Surge in Hate Crimes

The rise in global terrorism has caused a surge in hate crimes, especially after the horrible 9-11 tragedy. Since September 11, 2001, an increasingly strident message of xenophobia has permeated both fringe and mainstream political movements. This new climate has made immigrants and those of immigrant origin particular targets. Heightened anxiety and rising violence against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities have resulted in a new climate of exclusion. In this climate, individuals who are deemed outsiders due to their sexual orientation, gender, or disability may face less visible but equally threatening violence.Read more from Everyday Fears: A Survey of Violent Hate Crimes in Europe and North America, (by Michael McClintock, Human Rights First)

Developing a More Inclusive Mindset

This is an inevitable consequence of diversity. Tension, distrust and conflicts arise when people coming from different racial, cultural, religious, social, political, economic backgrounds have to live side by side and interact with one another. Yet people can learn to be more open, accepting and tolerant of others. Empathy. Compassion. Today, amid a world of strife, we greatly need those with these qualities. Two ways can help people become more understanding and empathetic towards others.

1. Developing Awareness

Awareness of the evils of bigotry and racism can help a lot in spreading love, kindness and peace in our families, communities, workplace. Everyone can easily have information at the click of a button. Why not Google about issues that matter, rather than following the lives of top celebrities.

Just look at this interactive d3.js visualization by a team of data scientists to see how much greater time is spent getting information on celebrities than on global issues such as global warming, poverty, and human rights. Google search for global issues has a dismal popularity score of only 12.57%, against Google search for celebrities at 87.43%. A more specific breakdown shows human rights issues getting a popularity score of 3.35%. It’s high time people get to be more interested, engaged with what truly matters.

2. Teaching diversity and inclusion

Teaching children the values of diversity and inclusion, and of the evils of racism. This booklet discusses this in detail.

Diversity has garnered critics and naysayers. But if America and the world are to survive, it’s time for people to learn to co-exist peacefully with one another.