Racial Disparities in Hate Crime Reporting

By Zaykowski, Heather | Violence and Victims, May 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Racial Disparities in Hate Crime Reporting


Zaykowski, Heather, Violence and Victims


This study examines the influence of the victim's race in reporting hate crimes to the police. Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) concentrated incident-level files (1992-2005) were used to (a) analyze how the victim's race influences the likelihood of reporting and (b) explore differences between reporting racial hate crimes and non-racial hate crimes. Controlling for other demographic and incident characteristics, the results indicate that minority victimizations are less likely to be reported for both racial and non-racial hate crimes; however, the magnitude of this effect was greater for racial hate crimes. Failure to report to the police has serious consequences for the victim and the criminal justice system. Implications and suggestions for further research are discussed.

Keywords : hate crime ; victimization ; race ; reporting ; NCVS

The Hate Crime Statistics Act (1990) mandated that the Attorney General incorporate data on biased offenses into the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) (Jenness, 1999) . According to these data, almost 8,000 hate crime incidents were reported to the police in 2006 (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006) . Other sources indicate much higher estimates than the UCR suggests. A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that over 200,000 individuals are victims of hate crimes each year (Harlow, 2005) . The disparity between official statistics and self-reported victimizations indicates that a large number of incidents are never reported to the police.

Reporting to the police is critical for the victim and the criminal justice system. Informing the authorities is the first step in the criminal justice process to arrest and convict offenders. Once aware of the crime, law enforcement can also direct victims to support services. Failure to report, however, suggests that victims may not trust the police or believe them to be ineffective (Skogan, 1984) .

Underreporting biased offenses in particular may have additional consequences for law enforcement and the institutionalization of hate crime law. Definitions for hate crime vary significantly not only across jurisdictions, but also in the perceptions of ordinary citizens (Blee, 2007). Critics argue that hate crime laws are unconstitutional because they punish speech, are ambiguously interpreted, and may lead policymakers down a "slippery slope" in allowing any prejudice to be classified as a hate crime. Recent studies, however, demonstrate that the concept of hate crimes has "settled" among legal actors (Phillips & Grattet, 2000) . That is, the substantive meaning ascribed to the concept of hate crime has become relatively unambiguous and formalistic within the legal arena.

Increased reporting may also suggest that victims acknowledge hate crimes as a legal offense. Recognition of biased offenses and willingness to report them will further enhance the instrumental power of the law in controlling intergroup conflict. Moreover, symbolically, reporting hate crimes denotes intolerance for offenses motivated by prejudice and evidence of success for civil rights movement activists in establishing hate crime legislation (McVeigh, Welch, & Bjarnason, 2003) .

This study investigates reporting non-racial and racial hate crime. Racial hate crimes were chosen for several reasons. First, there has been a long history of interracial violence in America (Blee, 2005; Petrosino, 1999) , yet few studies focus on how interracial dynamics affect reporting (but see, e.g., Carbone-López, 2005; Lyons, 2007; Perry, 2002 ). Research suggests that minorities lack confidence and trust in the police, which are influenced by perceived or experienced police misconduct and the media's portrayal of race relations (Bell, 2002; Weitzer & Tuch, 2005) . Furthermore, legal cynicism and negative attitudes toward the police may decrease calls for their assistance (Carr, Napolitano, & Keating, 2007) . …

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