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The Need for the Hate Crime Legislation Essay

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Updated: Aug 2nd, 2020


Hate crime can be defined as a criminal act in which the offender is fully or partially motivated by the ethnicity, race, gender, religion, or other types of affiliation of a victim. Even though the criminal act might not be inspired by hatred, it still can be recognized as a hate crime (Gerstenfeld, 2013). Some of the criminal offenses such as gang violence, political violence, and terrorism can also fall under the definition of hate crime.

It is important to realize that the line between an unlawful act and an act of bias is sometimes so narrow that it is hard to distinguish between the two. For example, there are some ways of exercising freedom of speech that might seem like hate crimes but could be protected under the First Amendment. On the other hand, some cases are explicitly prohibited under the hate crime laws (Gerstenfeld, 2013).

The need for the hate crime legislation has risen dramatically when a group of white supremacists called the National Socialist Party of America (NSPA) started organizing a demonstration in Skokie village, Illinois in 1977 (Gerstenfeld, 2013). The locals protested against the event, and the neo-Nazi group was denied the necessary permits for the rally. It was noticed by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL) that recorded increasing incidence rates of anti-Semitism across the United States (Gerstenfeld, 2013).

The ADL persuaded Oregon and Washington states to pass the laws prohibiting hate crimes. Similar legislation was passed in 34 states and the District of Columbia by 1994 (Gerstenfeld, 2013). Due to the efforts of the ADL and other similar organizations, almost all US states enacted “penalty-enhancement-type laws” (Gerstenfeld, 2013).

Existing Crime Legislation

There are some substantial differences between existing crime legislations in various states. Some states have only the penalty enhancing laws that can increase a sentence for offenses motivated by hatred. In some cases, they might be doubled or even tripled (Gerstenfeld, 2013). Those laws can lead to severe legal implications for the perpetrators of bias-driven crimes reclassifying the offenses as felonies. However, some states treat hate crimes differently and recognize separate substantive offenses that can result in a supplementary conviction.

Therefore, in addition to the punishment for the underlying crime, the defendant might receive other penalties. Moreover, whereas some states regard any bias-driven offenses as hate crimes, others have certain restrictions that limit them to harassment, assault, and vandalism among others (Gerstenfeld, 2013). Some states have made the inclusion of the specific choice of language based on the group affiliation of the victim chosen by the perpetrator in their hate crime legislation. Whereas, other states require that prejudice should be “manifested” or “demonstrated” (Gerstenfeld, 2013).

There is also a difference in the inclusion of various groups into the hate crime laws. For example, religious, ethnic, and racial affiliations are covered by all statutes. Whereas, sexual orientation is enumerated in only 31 state statutes. The gender groups or groups with physical disabilities are included only in 27 and 31 statutes, respectively (Gerstenfeld, 2013).

Arguments for Having Hate Crime Laws

The majority of arguments for having hate crime laws can be placed into three categories: deterrence, retribution, and symbolic effects. The deterrent effects of the legislation against hate crimes is the main concern of those who claim that it can be effective in discouraging people from perpetrating offenses motivated by hatred (Gerstenfeld, 2013).

Adherents of this argument believe that potential offenders would better consider the risks and benefits associated with committing a hate crime if they were versed in the hate crime legislation and, hence, were aware of possible legal consequences. The retribution argument is concerned with the severity of hate crimes and states that bigots have to be punished more severely than other offenders. Those who adhere to this view believe that offenses motivated by hatred cause more psychological damage to their victims in comparison with other unlawful acts (Gerstenfeld, 2013).

This argument is focused on the belief that the emotional state of those who have suffered hate crimes tends to worsen over time. However, there is no substantial evidence to support this claim empirically. Another argument that falls in the retribution category is concerned with the severity of physical trauma experienced by victims of hate crimes. The proponents of this belief state that illegal acts motivated by hatred “tend to be excessively brutal” (Gerstenfeld, 2013). Unfortunately, the data that supports this view is even more scarce than that for the psychological argument.

There are other assertions concerning a wide impact of hate crimes. According to those who argue about the extended influence of such offenses, their repercussion could go beyond the victims themselves and might cause a ripple effect across entire neighborhoods. For example, a swastika painted on a synagogue might negatively impact not only one particular congregation but the whole Jewish community of a town.

I would argue that some hate crimes can negatively impact the entire culture of a country poisoning it from within; therefore, there is a need for hate crime legislation that would punish those offenses. Another argument for such laws is their symbolic or denunciatory effect. It is aimed at preserving the social fabric of the country that has particular social norms prohibiting crimes motivated by hatred (Gerstenfeld, 2013).


Gerstenfeld, P. (2013). Hate crimes (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Need for the Hate Crime Legislation'. 2 August.

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