The Many Kinds of Hate Crime

State Legislatures, May 1999 | Go to article overview

The Many Kinds of Hate Crime


Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten and tied to a fence because he was gay. James Byrd Jr. was tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged two miles to his death because he was black. The deaths of both men brought national attention to the brutality of hate crimes.

Though these recent crimes are the most publicized, the Federal Bureau of Investigation documented 8,759 hate crimes across the country in its most recent Uniform Crime Report, 1996. Released late last year, the report indicated that about 63 percent of the crimes were motivated by race, with 14 percent based on religion, 12 percent on sexual orientation and 11 percent on ethnicity.

Hate crime laws provide increased penalties for those who commit crimes based on bias against race, religion, ethnicity, disability, national origin, gender or sexual orientation. But not all state laws are created equal.

Twenty-one states plus the District of Columbia include crimes based on sexual orientation under hate crime statutes, while 19 do not. Of the remaining 10 states, Texas has a statute that addresses hate crimes in general; however, since it does not name specific characteristics of those it's intended to protect, many deem it difficult to enforce. Tennessee has a "civil rights intimidation" law that does not include sexual orientation. States without hate crime laws include Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, South Carolina and Wyoming.

An increasing number of state legislatures are including gender in the list of prejudices considered to be an element of a hate crime. …

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