What’s a Hate Crime?

Police reports can play an essential role in prosecuting a hate crime.

In recent years, many jurisdictions have established a separate hate crime category, and the federal government also can investigate and prosecute hate crimes. These are criminal acts such as murder, arson, vandalism, and other crimes against people and property that are partly or wholly motivated by bias.

You should know that demonstrating hatred towards minorities, gays, Jews, persons with disabilities, or other groups is not sufficient: The bias must be shown beyond a reasonable doubt to be the motivation behind the crime.

Prosecuting a hate crime can be difficult. Hate in itself is not a crime, and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects free speech even when it is offensive.

Another problem is that sometimes an alleged hate crime is actually a hoax. In 2009, for example, McCain supporter Ashley Todd falsely claimed that she’d been robbed by a Barack Obama supporter who cut a B on her right cheek. Investigators noted that the cuts were superficial, Todd refused medical attention, and – most telling – the “B” was backward, as if it had been done in front of a mirror.

If you suspect a hate crime, be sure to record details in your report that will be helpful to the prosecutor. Here are some possibilities:

  • Relevant information about the offender’s and victim’s race, religion, ethnic/national origin, sexual orientation, or disability
  • Suspect’s oral statements indicating bias
  • Bias-related drawings, markings, symbols, or graffiti
  • Objects (like white sheets with hoods or a burning cross) indicating bias
  • Membership in a significant group (such as a white supremacy organization)

The officer at the scene will not be the person who decides how to prosecute the crime. But your observations and detailed reporting can be the deciding factors in a successful prosecution.

You can learn more about hate crimes by reading this article from the FBI website: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2015/november/latest-hate-crime-statistics-available/latest-hate-crime-statistics-available.




2 thoughts on “What’s a Hate Crime?

  1. Concerned citizen

    I am not in LE field but I’m learning. I have hard time understanding how could people claiming their Constiutuonal rights when they openly express offensive words In relations to negative biases toward protected groups. How is that speech alone not considered as adequately proof to be concerned or be alarmed in such oppressive communication unless the offensive act or conduct to be included as proof? I have some disagreements with Supreme Court argument that offensive speech alone is protected by Constitution. It does not make sense unless there are adverse actions being taken in place then it become violations of bias.

  2. Jean Post author

    Our Founding Fathers believed that it was very important to allow any person to express any idea. Often new ideas sound crazy, stupid, and offensive. (Medical doctors were outraged in the 20th century when Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis insisted that they wash their hands before treating patients.) The Founding Fathers felt there was no need to protect ideas that people liked and agreed with. They were worried that unpopular ideas would be repressed by government forces. They knew the risks – that crazy, stupid, and offensive ideas would be getting a hearing. But they thought they’d rather have the United States put up with 100 bad ideas than possibly lose out on one good one. It’s an important American value.


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