More On The Definition Of "Hate Crime"
I wanted to respond to something that David Neiwert wrote about hate crimes. You might call it quibbling, but as I've written about before the distinction has substantial ramifications for how we prosecute hate crimes. David says:
- "A hate crime hasn't occurred simply when a person of one race commits a crime against someone of another. This, of course, occurs all the time."
- "It's only a hate crime when the victim is intentionally selected specifically because of their ethnic, religious, or sexual identity."
- "Hate crimes are message crimes: They are intended to harm not just the immediate victim, but all people of that same class within the community. Their message is also irrevocable: they are "get out of town, nigger/Jew/queer" crimes."
Suppose that a white man beats a black man due to racial animus, but provides no external markers indicating his motivation. This situation meets the definition of "hate crime" given in (2), but (3) requires the delivery of a message of racial animus to the targeted community. Per (1), racial animus can't be inferred merely by the fact of white-on-black crime, so there must be external signs indicating the perpetrator's motivation. Such signs are absent in this case, so this situation is not a hate crime as defined by (3).
The contradiction here arises from an undue focus on the perpetrator's internal mental status. If bias crimes are really crimes of intimidation directed as a particular group then the perpetrator's motivation is secondary to that group's perceptions of the incident. If a representative member or members of the targeted group believes that a crime was bias motivated then that meets the "message delivery" criteria which David outlined above. Conversely, if the targeted group does not perceive bias motivation, then it's difficult to argue that a particular incident is a hate crime, regardless of the perpetrator's intentions. Of course, in the case of perceived bias motivation, evidence contradicting that interpretation should certainly serve as a mitigating factor.