On Hate Crimes

“Hate crime” legislation is one of the most illogical public policies in existence. The poorly thought out idea is that crimes motivated by the perpetrator’s prejudice toward the victim (because of the victim’s race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) need to be discouraged, so such crimes deserve a harsher penalty.

The obvious problem with this thinking is that all crimes need to be discouraged, not just the ones that might have been caused by prejudice against members of so-called “protected groups”. (The existence of “protected groups” implies that there exist “unprotected groups” — so why are some people unprotected? So much for equal protection of the law…) It is just as necessary to discourage crimes committed for reason(s) other than prejudice as ones that are committed at least partly because of it. It ultimately makes no difference to the victim and his or her loved ones why the crime was committed, either — the effects of the crime (injuries, death, etc.) are the same whether the perpetrator is found to have committed a “hate crime” or not. To paraphrase Marisa Tomei’s character in My Cousin Vinny:

Your brains are lying on the ground in little bloody pieces. Now I ask you, would you give a f*** whether the SOB who shot you was prejudiced against you?

The result of a hate crime conviction is that the perpetrator receives a harsher penalty, but the victim is no more or less victimized.

A common justification for hate crime legislation is that certain types of crimes have a “history” of high rates, and therefore they should be designated hate crimes with harsher penalties to drive these rates down to the “historically” lower rates of other types of crimes. Of course, supporters of hate crime legislation rarely, if ever, cite statistics along with their claim and instead simply assume the “historical” rates are as they say. The actual “historical” rates often don’t agree with their assumptions, though. As an example, consider U.S. homicide rates from recent years broken down by race (white or black) of the offender and victim:

  1. In 2005 blacks were victimized at 6x the rate of whites.
  2. In 2005 blacks were also the offenders at 7x the rate of whites.
  3. From 1976 to 2005, 86% of white victims were killed by whites and 94% of black victims were killed by blacks.

Assuming the intraracial homicides were not “hate crimes” (what would that be, a self-hate crime?), these statistics tell us that interracial homicides (which may not have been motivated by race) actually have significantly lower rates than “non-hate” homicides in recent history (which is the most applicable historical timeframe, since it is the best reflection of today’s society and we have the most detailed statistics for it). Now maybe hate crime legislation has been fabulously successful at driving down the rates of homicides motivated by race, but if that’s the case then these statistics simply highlight how important it is to discourage all crimes regardless of motivation. If the harsher penalties of hate crimes have driven the rates of homicides motivated by race so low, how much lower would the number of intraracial homicides be if harsher penalties were used in those cases as well? On the other hand, maybe hate crime legislation hasn’t had a significant effect on the rate of homicides motivated by race — in which case hate crime legislation has not only been unsuccessful and pointless, but targeted the wrong type of crime! Using the logic that crimes with a “history” of  higher rates should be designated hate crimes and carry harsher penalties, we should have designated intraracial homicides to be hate crimes (especially black on black homicides). Curiously, no one is advocating hate crime designation for black on black homicides, though.

Many other types of violent crimes have higher intraracial than interracial rates, too. The U.S. Department of Justice reports statistics on criminal victimization every year, and Table 42 of the most recent report breaks down victims and offenders by race for various violent crimes. For violent crimes in general, about two thirds of all violent crimes committed against whites were committed by white offenders and also about two thirds of all violent crimes committed against blacks were committed by black offenders. On the other hand, only 15.4% of violent crimes committed against whites were committed by black offenders and only 15.9% of violent crimes committed against blacks were committed by white offenders. Put another way, white offenders committed about 1,880,000 (67.4% of 2,788,600) violent crimes against whites and about 91,000 (15.9% of 570,550) violent crimes against blacks while black offenders committed about 430,000 (15.4% of 2,788,600) violent crimes against whites and 369,000 (64.7% of 570,550) violent crimes against blacks.  This means that white offenders chose a black victim (between a white or black victim) only about 5% of the time while black offenders chose a white victim (between a white or black victim) about 55% of the time. Also notable is the fact that rape and sexual assaults have the highest intraracial rates: offenses committed against whites were committed by white offenders 74.9% of the time, and offenses committed against blacks were committed by black offenders 74.8% of  the time. In particular, while black offenders committed 16.4% of offenses against whites, white offenders committed 0% (10 or fewer cases) of offenses against blacks! Hate crime supporters often try to justify their position by raising the specter of a white supremacist attacking blacks simply out of racism, but the statistics show that white offenders usually target a white victim and rarely target a black victim. These statistics have the same trend for many years, too (reports from other years such as 1995 can be viewed by modifying the last two digits of the link to a given year’s report, and these reports have the same statistics in Table 42). Again, hate crimes completely fail to address the types of crimes with the highest rates.

Another common justification for hate crime legislation is the idea that harsher penalties for crimes motivated by prejudice are necessary to reduce the risk of retaliatory crimes committed by people from the “protected group” that the offender was allegedly prejudiced against. Using the standard example of a white offender committing a crime against a black victim because of the latter’s race, the idea is to prevent retaliatory crimes committed by the black community out of anger that the white offender was not punished enough. Hate crime prosecutions, however, must highlight the alleged prejudice of the accused in order to convict him or her of a hate crime; this creates exactly the “us vs. them” mentality that racism, sexism, etc. thrive on. Prosecuting the same defendant without necessarily trying to prove a specific motive based on prejudice may not cause the alleged victim’s community to view the crime as one based on prejudice, and therefore the alleged victim’s community may not commit retaliatory crimes. Whether retaliatory crimes are actually reduced by hate crime legislation or not, attempting to satisfy the bloodlust of the alleged victim’s community with a harsher penalty for the offender is not justice.

Proving a motive of prejudice at trial is also unnecessary for securing a conviction. In order to prove that someone has committed a crime, one must prove the elements of the alleged crime: these are generally (depending on the specific legal system) the guilty act (actus reus) and the intent to commit the crime (mens rea). In proving intent, a prosecutor may often attempt to show that the accused has a motive (a reason why the accused intended to and did commit the crime); however, it doesn’t matter what motive(s) the accused had/has or even if a discernible motive exists.* Thus, it is unnecessary to attempt to prove the existence of a motive based on prejudice if intent can be proved without a motive or if there are other possible motives (a person of one race who robs someone of another race, for example, may have committed the robbery simply due to the offender’s poverty). If one wishes to deter crimes committed due to the offender’s prejudice with a harsher penalty then it is simpler and more logical to simply use harsher penalties for all crimes committed (whether due to the offender’s prejudice or not): this not only deters crimes committed without a motive of prejudice, but prevents a prosecutor from having to needlessly prove a specific motive of prejudice in addition to the elements of the crime in order to make it possible to apply the harsher penalty.

Hate crime legislation therefore needlessly adds an element to prove about a potential crime (in order to apply a harsher penalty), needlessly highlights tensions between social groups, and addresses the types of crimes (those committed against so-called “protected groups”) which have historically low rates anyway. Arguably, it also violates the principle of equal protection of the law (which is explicitly stated in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) since someone who is not a member of a “protected group” does not enjoy the added protection that hate crime legislation (which is not in the U.S. Constitution) purportedly provides. If the penalty for committing a hate crime is good enough for protecting the so-called “protected groups” then it’s also good enough to protect members of unprotected groups.


* To see why the guilty act and intent are necessary and sufficient to secure a conviction (but motive is not necessary), consider the following scenario: an individual kills a completely random stranger for no discernible reason. If one can prove that the individual killed the stranger (the guilty act) and intended to kill the stranger (i.e. intended to commit a crime) then it doesn’t matter if the killing was so random that no one knows the reason (motive) why the crime was committed. On the other hand, suppose an unaware pedestrian runs out into the street and is hit and killed by a car: even if the driver had a motive (perhaps even one of prejudice against the pedestrian) and even though the driver committed the guilty act, if the driver can prove that he did not intend to hit the pedestrian (perhaps he slammed on the brakes but was unable to stop in time) and that he was not criminally negligent (e.g. driving while intoxicated, which is considered a type of intent) then he will be rightfully acquitted.


7 thoughts on “On Hate Crimes

  1. Solid analysis.

    For your breakdown of inter-racial/intra-racial crime, you should be more clear what you’re taking percentages of; e.g., white-on-white rape/sexual assault make up 74.9% of attacks on whites, as opposed to attacks by whites (it’s ambiguous otherwise).

    RE: “the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by an offender of the same race as the victim…”

    This is only true because there are so very many white people, and white crime is virtually all against other whites. In fact (according to your source, the 2008 NCVS), black criminals choose white victims 54%/55% of the time for single-/multiple-offender crimes. So most black crime is inter-racial (whereas virtually all white crime is intra-racial).

    RE: “the rate of white on black crime is actually lower or on par with the rate of black on white crime in many cases”

    The (per capita) rate of white-on-black crime is extremely low, compared to the (per capita) rate of black-on-white crime. (I think you must have meant incidence.) For example, for single-offender violent crimes overall (NCVS, 2008), blacks are 32 times more likely to attack whites than vice versa; 67 times, for robbery (mugging).

    If you want to a quick reference for explaining race and crime statistics to laypeople, including inter-racial crime rates, I’ve got a flyer on the subject (again, based on the 2008 NCVS).

    I see that you’re pretty new to blogging. I’ve been writing about hate crime for some time, to a larger audience. If this interests you, a few comments could drive more visitors your way. I’ve talked about race and crime statistics in Pennsylvania (with the media censorship angle), Wisconsin (I find charts help get these points across), and South Carolina (with an eye to lynching).

    • Thanks for your inputs! I will update the inter/intraracial crime part for clarification as soon as I get a chance.

      Thanks for the links to your blog, too. You certainly have plenty of statistics for me to comb through and keep on hand. I’ll keep an eye on your blog.

  2. Pingback: Lefties Call for Day of Compassion to Atone for Day of Rage | Rogue Operator

  3. (Re original post)

    I think you make a lot of good points, but I think the one with the best chance of convincing the most people (i.e., including liberals) may be the equality argument:

    The existence of “protected groups” implies that there exist “unprotected groups” — so why are some people unprotected? So much for equal protection of the law…

    I had never thought about it that way until I recently started hearing Mark Steyn make similar arguments—e.g., in a recent cover story in National Review:

    Restrictions on freedom of speech undermine the foundations of justice, including the bedrock principle: equality before the law. When it comes to free expression, Britain, Canada, Australia, and Europe are ever less lands of laws and instead lands of men—and women, straights and gays, Muslims and infidels—whose rights before the law vary according to which combination of these various identity groups they belong to.

    (The link will expire, but the article, which I recommend, will always be available in the August 29th issue of National Review.)

    • I remember reading that from Mark Steyn and I agree it’s a great one. I didn’t intentionally make a similar “equality” argument because I wasn’t thinking of his article when I wrote my post, but it’s a good connection. Thanks for pointing it out.

      I’m honestly not sure what argument will be most convincing to liberals. I agree that the equality argument can be very convincing (especially for conservatives) because the process of prosecuting a “hate crime” is blatantly unequal to prosecuting an otherwise identical crime that doesn’t have the alleged prejudicial element. The problem is that liberals and conservatives don’t always agree on what “equality” means. I’ve been reading some of Thomas Sowell’s books (“A Conflict of Visions” and “The Vision of the Anointed” — I highly recommend these) and he explains that those with a constrained/tragic vision (generally, but not always, a conservative’s vision) defines things like equality, justice, power, etc., differently than those with an unconstrained/”anointed” vision (generally, but not always, a modern liberal’s vision). The constrained vision defines equality in terms of a process (e.g. prosecution), but the unconstrained vision defines it in terms of outcome (e.g. number of crimes between various racial groups). A simple example is affirmative action — although the process of affirmative action is blatantly unequal (and therefore opposed by those with the constrained vision) the outcome is supposedly equal (and therefore favored by those with the unconstrained vision). This is a similar problem for hate crimes — we view hate crimes as unequal, but supporters of hate crime legislation may define equality differently here. For example, one could take “equal protection of the law” to mean that all racial groups are equally “protected” from criminals — and if white supremacists, for example, have a “history” of targeting blacks so that blacks suffer more at the hands of these white supremacists, then the law must punish them more harshly to lower the number of those crimes and “equally protect” blacks. I don’t subscribe to this view, of course, but one who does view equality this way may not be convinced that hate crime legislation fails to provide “equal protection of the law”.

      To that end, I wanted to attack the false premise that white on black crime has a “history” of higher rates and that this history justifies hate crime legislation, which is Eric Holder’s view. This is also probably the view of most people, as the archetypal “hate crime” is a racist white committing a crime against a black. By showing that the statistics disagree with this notion, I hope to discredit the underlying assumption that hate crime legislation equalizes the outcome of crime in America at the expense of an unequal process. If hate crime legislation fails to equalize the outcome then it makes no sense to make the process purposefully unequal. Of course, I also try to point out that if the harsher penalties of hate crimes deters crimes for “protected groups” then why not protect the “unprotected groups” too? If harsher penalties can reduce crime for everyone, who cares if some groups benefit more than others? Thus, I am trying to attack the possible definition of equality that it means “equality of outcomes” as incorrect, too.

      Part of the purpose of my blog is to get my ideas and arguments out in the open for all to see — conservatives and liberals alike — so that anyone who finds a weakness in my arguments or doesn’t find them convincing can give me feedback that I can use to strengthen my arguments and make them more convincing. So far the feedback I’ve gotten is mostly from those who oppose hate crime legislation (and I definitely appreciate this feedback, including yours), so hopefully some supporters of hate crime legislation will come along and shed some light on which arguments they find stronger.

    • Yes! The Vision of the Anointed is a great book. (I’ve been meaning to read A Conflict of Visions.)

      Good point, a lot of liberals seem to think about things very differently from me, and upon further reflection I’m not sure I have any idea what will be persuasive to them.

      As to your hope that liberals will seek you out and come on your blog to give you thoughtful feedback, good luck! I guess I’ve had some “luck” in getting liberals to argue with me on my blog, but that’s really just luck, maybe—I have a couple of liberal classmates who, when they found out I had a blog, couldn’t resist getting on it and arguing with me about everything, and in the last few days I linked to a couple of liberal blogs and talked about them, and inadvertently provoked them to come over to mine and argue with me—but that was all basically totally unintentional on my part. One thing I can say (that I think has brought me one or two of the passing liberals who have argued with me) is that I sometimes get a little traffic from using the most popular WordPress tags—you can see them here, the bigger the print the more popular the tag. So, for example, I no longer just use a tag like “public policy” if a more standard one like “politics” or “news” is also apt. I still don’t usually get any visitors through tags, but I sometimes get a few.

      • A Conflict of Visions is quite similar to The Vision of the Anointed. The difference is that the former discusses the history of the two visions and analyzes them (how they view equality, justice, etc.) on an unbiased and abstract level while the latter attacks the unconstrained/”anointed” vision and uses more specific examples from American history. The difference between the two visions is made obvious in The Vision of the Anointed so you won’t get out as much from A Conflict of Visions but it’s still a good read. Since it is written from an unbiased viewpoint it’s easier to understand how people with the other vision think. Both are great and very insightful books.

        I’ve had a little luck with liberals arguing with me here (mostly on same-sex marriage), but so far it’s mostly conservatives. It’s no big deal because I just started recently and haven’t posted that much yet, and I’ve started building up a network of friends that are mostly conservative anyway. In time I’m sure I’ll start picking up more viewers, and some of them are bound to be liberals who will want to engage in debate. I too have been using the popular WordPress tags to try to attract traffic (that’s how I browse WordPress for blogs I haven’t already subscribed to) and I think I’ve picked up a few visitors that way. I also publish my posts to my Facebook account and I’ve generated a little bit of traffic that way (surprisingly little, though, since I have some very liberal Facebook friends).

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