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Hate crime laws across the U.S. lack uniformity in addressing violence, civil rights report says

  • July 30, 2021

Forty-six states as well as DC, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have their own hate crime laws, according to the report. But they all vary greatly, which leads to “a complex—and inconsistent—patchwork of policies and protections across the country,” the report said. 

For example, most of the laws cover race, ethnicity and religion, but there is “considerable variation” when it comes to hate crimes based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and age, according to the report. This demonstrates the lack of uniformity in protections offered to some vulnerable communities. 

The report also noted inconsistencies in hate crime data collection and reporting across states, with only half of them requiring law enforcement agencies to report hate crime data to the FBI. Recording this data is crucial to evaluating the effectiveness of hate crime laws, the report added. 

Available data from the FBI reported a ten-year high in hate crimes in 2019, most of which are motivated by racial or ethnic bias.

Other data also indicates that the majority of hate crimes in the U.S. are committed by white people, according to the report. However, the report noted that hate crimes reported by state law enforcement to the FBI disproportionately identify Black people as hate crime offenders. 

13 states’ law enforcement records listed Black offenders at a rate nearly 1.6 to 3.6 times the size of the state’s Black population, according to the report. 

This demonstrates the widespread bias in the criminal justice system, which, according to the report, often discourages vulnerable communities from reporting their hate crime experiences to law enforcement. 

In addition to examining hate crime laws, the report outlines ways that they can be improved. 

Many of the laws share a core element of using criminal punishment for when they’re violated, but the report says there is “little evidence” that such enhancements deter hate crimes. Instead, the report calls for non-carceral approaches focused on rehabilitation and healing. 

The Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act was cited as an example of improved hate crime legislation.

The federal legislation was signed into law by President Joe Biden in May, and directs the Department of Justice to streamline the review of hate crimes related to the pandemic. It also gives local law enforcement more resources to track such crimes, and provides guidance on how to reduce discriminatory language related to the virus.

The report also advocates for expanding protections for communities impacted by hate crimes and improving law enforcement accountability and training. 

“Today, we are at a turning point. Although we know that hate crime laws are important and have been successful in holding offenders accountable, we also know that they can and should be more impactful,” wrote Judy Shepard, president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, in the foreword of the report.

Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten and left to die, became an inspiration for a 2009 federal hate crimes law.

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