Daily Meme: A Brief History of the Hate Crime

  • Yesterday, a gunman opened fire at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City killing three people. The shooter, Frazier Glenn Miller, a 73-year-old former Klu Klux Klan Grand Dragon, had a history of violence, and once headed a movement called "White Southland." A sample of what he was peddling? Miller sent his supporters ("Aryan warriers of The Order") a points system guide for murdersas The Daily Beast reports—“'N**gers (1), White race traitors (10), Jews (10), Judges (50) Morris Seligman Dees (888).' Dees is the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center."
  • Given the location of the shooting, it's timing on the eve of Passover, and the fact that when he was apprehended by the police, Miller yelled a Nazi salute, law enforcement will prosecute the crime as a hate crime. That means Miller will face charges on both a state and federal level. The law didn't always treat such crimes with increased penalties, however. Here's a quick history of hate crimes prosecution in the United States: 
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was the first federal law to draw a distinction between "regular" crimes and those motivated by bias. The law promised special prosecution of anyone who "willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with...any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin" or anyone who is attempting to do something like register to vote or enroll in school. In other words, it directly addressed the concerns of the Civil Rights era, but it didn't cover every bias-motivated crime. 
  • In 1990, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was signed into law, which required the Justice Deparment to gather data on hate crimes from around the country, including those moticated by sexual orientation. You can find the most up-to-date breakdown of hate crimes throughout the U.S. here
  • In 1994, the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act was passed as an amendment to a larger crime bill, and upped the penalties that could be assigned to those convicted of hate crimes. 
  • 1998 was another turning point—a tragic one—for the push to prosecute all hate crimes. It was the year that Matthew Shepard, a gay man from Wyoming, was brutally beaten, tied to a fence, and left there to die. In 2009, President Obama signed into law The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Actwhich expanded hate crimes protections to other marginalized groups. 
  • The Human Rights Campaign website writes this about the law: "Since 1968, federal law has covered a narrow class of hate crimes: those committed on the basis of race, religion, national origin and because the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting. This important civil rights law does not cover crimes motivated by bias against the person’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability, or those without a nexus to a federally protected activity."
  • Of course, since this is America and we're never short on opinions, you'll likely be unsurprised to hear that not everyone is happy with the way that we designate hate crimes as separate from all others. The Family Research Council has some charming things to say about what it calls "Thought Crime laws." Be sure to read all the way to the "deviant sexual behaviors" part: 
  • "We oppose all Thought Crime laws in principle, because penalizing people specifically for their thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes—even ones abhorrent to us and to the vast majority of Americans, such as racism—would undermine the freedom of speech and thought at the heart of our democracy. However, we have a particular concern regarding such laws when they include "sexual orientation" and 'gender identity' (a reference to cross-dressing and sex-change operations) among the categories of protection. This sends the false message that deviant sexual behaviors are somehow equivalent to other categories of protection such as race or sex. In fact, the very term 'hate crime' is offensive in this context, in that it implies that mere disapproval of homosexual behavior constitutes a form of hate' equivalent to racial bigotry."
  • Not all hate is prosecutable, that's for sure. 

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