What is a Hate Crime?
Hate crimes are subject to both federal and state legislation. For federal reporting purposes, the FBI defines a hate crime (also called a bias crime) as follows:
"A criminal offense committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin" (Hate Crime Data Collection Guidelines, 1999).
For those in the Walla Walla area, the Washington State definitions of hate crimes are important as well. Under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 9A.36.080), hate crimes are prosecuted as "malicious harassment." This is a felony charge and is also subject to civil lawsuits. Hate crime charges are taken very seriously. Washington State law defines malicious harassment as follows:
"A person is guilty of malicious harassment if he or she maliciously and intentionally commits one of the following acts because of his or her perception of the victim's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap:
- Causes physical injury to the victim or another person;
- Causes physical damage to or destruction of the property of the victim or another person; or
- Threatens a specific person or group of persons and places that person, or members of the specific group of persons, in reasonable fear of harm to person or property."
Several things are worth noting here. First, mistaken identification does not preclude a hate crime charge. Thus, if someone commits a crime against you because he or she thinks you are Jewish, it is still malicious harassment even if you're not Jewish. Second, "physical damage" includes vandalism - one of the most common forms of hate crime. Third, "sexual orientation" currently refers to "heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality." The Washington state legislature has been considering, but has not yet passed, a bill adding "gender expression or identity" to that list (House bill 1938). Transgender people and transsexuals would then be explicitly covered by Washington's law. As of yet this is not the case, except in situations where a transperson's gender identity is read by the perpetrators as sexual orientation (a transman being attacked as a lesbian, for example). Some courts will prosecute crimes against trans people under the "gender" portion of hate crimes law, but unfortunately the success of this strategy has been uneven - thus the need for further legislation. Fourth, in part (c) "reasonable fear" is to be judged from the perspective of another member of that group. So, for instance, in the case of a hate crime against an African American, whether or not the person is threatened is judged based on whether most other African Americans would consider the episode threatening.
Finally, there are special provisions under the RCW for cross-burning and vandalism with swastikas. In both of these cases, the act is considered "malicious harassment" unless the defendant can prove to the satisfaction of the judge and/or jury that she or he did not intend to threaten anyone.
For more information on hate crimes legislation and prosecution, please visit the links page.
What is a Hate/Bias Incident?
The key difference between hate crimes and hate incidents (or bias incidents - the two terms are often used interchangeably) is that hate crimes are acts included under hate crime laws and hate incidents are not. The motivation for both is the same - bias against a particular group of people - but hate incidents are not, technically, crimes. They are often covered under campus conduct rules; at Whitman, a hate incident may be addressed in this way if the perpetrator is a Whitman student, staff member, or faculty member.
Hate incidents include, among other things, speech that is hate- or bias-motivated but is not a credible threat (like someone shouting an epithet out of the window of a passing car on a crowded street in the middle of the day), written hate statements that are not credibly threatening and are not vandalism, drawings that are not vandalism (for instance, something drawn on a chalkboard), and so on.
We are concerned about hate incidents for two reasons. First, people who perpetrate hate incidents may move on to hate crimes (for instance, it is a relatively small step from writing slurs on a piece of paper to painting them on a wall). Second, hate incidents create an unsafe environment not only for those who have been specifically targeted, but for everyone else who might have been targeted instead. A hate incident against one African American, for instance, is a potential threat to everyone in the local Black community.