Hate Crimes: Criminal Law & Identity Politics

By James B. Jacobs; Kimberly Potter | Go to book overview

2
What Is Hate Crime?

[C]rimes motivated by bigotry usually arise not out of the pathological rantings and ravings of a few deviant types in organized hate groups, but out of the very mainstream of society.

Jack Levin and Jack McDevitt, Hate Crimes: The Rising Tide of Bigotry and Bloodshed

WE CANNOT TALK ABOUT how much hate crime exists in the United States or what to do about it until we are clear about what a hate crime is. This chapter shows that the concept of hate crime is loaded with ambiguity because of the difficulty of determining (1) what is meant by prejudice; (2) which prejudices qualify for inclusion under the hate crime umbrella; (3) which crimes, when attributable to prejudice, become hate crimes; and (4) how strong the causal link must be between the perpetrator's prejudice and the perpetrator's criminal conduct.


Complexity of Prejudice

"Hate" crime is not really about hate, but about bias or prejudice. As we will see in chapter 3, statutory definitions of hate crime differ somewhat from state to state, but essentially hate crime refers to criminal conduct motivated by prejudice. Prejudice, however, is a complicated, broad, and cloudy concept. We all have prejudices for and against individuals, groups, foods, countries, weather, and so forth. Sometimes these prejudices are rooted in experience, sometimes in fantasy and irrationality, and sometimes they are passed down to us by family, friends, school, religion, and culture. Some prejudices (e.g., anti-Fascist) are considered good, some (e.g., preference for tall people over short people) relatively

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