Across the United States in 2007 and 2008, people motivated by prejudice acted violently to hurt individuals in vicious assaults, to damage homes and personal property, and to attack places of worship, cemeteries, community centers, and schools. The prejudices differ from case to case, and often multiple prejudices combine in a single crime. This report addresses in particular hate crimes motivated by racist and xenophobic bias, religious bias, sexual orientation bias (often called homophobia, and in this analysis embracing also gender identity bias), and bias based on disability—as well as crimes motivated by a combination of prejudices.
According to statistics published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for 2006, the latest year for which information is available, people of African descent comprised the largest number of victims of violent hate crime, reflecting longstanding patterns of such crimes in the United States. However, new trends of rising anti-immigrant violence were also part of the larger pattern of racism and xenophobia: anti-immigrant hate crimes took the form of personal assaults leading to serious injury or death, as well as threatening graffiti on homes and businesses. In these new patterns of violence, people of Hispanic origin, both immigrants and American citizens, faced rising levels of crime driven by prejudice and hatred.
Jews continue to be among the principal victims of racism combined with religious hatred and prejudice, with antisemitic crimes continuing at high levels. Antisemitic crimes ranged from attacks on synagogues and schools and vandalism of homes to physical assaults on religious and community leaders.
Racism and religious bias also conspired to drive attacks on people of Muslim origin, with arson attacks on mosques and Islamic community centers, and attacks on ordinary citizens and immigrants who happen to be Muslims. These hate crimes placed people of Middle East and South Asian origins under threat whether or not they were Muslims, even as Muslims faced the double discrimination of racism and religious prejudice. Perpetrators of religious bias crimes also targeted Christian churches, their congregations, and clergy for crimes ranging from threatening graffiti to arson and deadly gunfire.
FBI hate crime data shows that attacks founded on sexual orientation continue to be characterized by a high level of violence, with a higher proportion of personal assaults than in other categories of hate crime. Nongovernmental monitors report a substantial increase in 2007 of violent attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. Some of those attacked faced serious injury or death.
People with disabilities were targeted for ongoing abuse, torture, and murder. The number of attacks against disabled people is generally understood to be severely undercounted.
The perpetrators of the violence were motivated by views founded on prejudice and hatred—but the resulting hate crimes were objective acts of violence that would have constituted punishable offenses regardless of motivation. Bias-motivated incidents were more serious crimes because they represented criminal acts with greater resonance, reach, and consequences than most ordinary crimes—because they threatened and harmed not just the individual victims and their families but whole sectors of the population and the social fabric itself.
Although hate crimes are a serious and continuing problem in the United States, the situation in the U.S. differs in significant ways from that in most of the other 56 participating states in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—the region of focus of Human Rights First’s 2008 Hate Crime Survey. Unlike in most other countries, the government of the United States has generally responded to hate crimes vigorously, in rhetoric and in action, putting in place a robust system of monitoring and reporting, as well as creating a sound legal base for prosecuting hate crimes as the more serious crimes that they are.
Nonetheless, there are some glaring omissions in the official response to hate crimes, and this report concludes with several recommendations to enhance that response. In particular, the adoption of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act would address some of the principle shortcomings on the current hate crime legislation.