What is a Hate Crime?


In the last few months, amid a crazy news cycle, some stories have lingered and continue to haunt me. A white supremacist in Oregon kills two men who intervene to stop his racist rants; a 17-year-old girl in Virginia is killed after leaving a mosque with friends; an Indian man is killed at local bar in Kansas; a noose is found hanging at the Smithsonian National Museum of African History and Culture; a pride flag is burned in California. Which of these is a hate crime? Does it matter?

A hate crime is motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, and usually involves violence. Originally, the FBI only investigated hate crimes if the victim was engaged in a “federally protected activity” such as voting or going to school. But in 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act authorized the FBI to investigate these crimes regardless of what the victim was doing when it happened. This landmark law also expanded hate crimes to include those based on biases of actual or perceived sexual orientation, disability, gender or gender identity.

Bias incidents are considered expressions of hate where no crime is committed. They also have negative effects on individuals and communities and can threaten to escalate into full hate crimes.

How prevalent are hate crimes?

Disturbingly, hate crimes and bias incidents seem to be on the rise, such as the hate crime that became a rallying cry to form the Brave Coalition. The FBI reported 5,850 hate crimes involving 7,173 victims in the U.S. in 2015. But the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests at least half of all hate crimes are not reported. Among the hate crimes documented by the FBI, 57% were motivated by race, ethnicity, or ancestry bias, 21% by religious bias, and 18% by sexual-orientation bias. Of those related to religious bias, 51% were anti-Jewish, 22% anti-Islamic, and 4.4% anti-Catholic. 

While the most egregious events get coverage in traditional media, social media has created a venue for spreading hate. Social media is fueling organized hate groups, as well as hate speech and trolling. A recent study from Safe Home, a security organization, reported that “likes” on hate group tweets and comments rose more than 900% between 2014 and 2016. While the actual number of twitter followers for these hate groups is relatively small, they can have a disproportionate effect on targeted groups and our society as a whole.

But why does it matter?

Isn’t a murder a murder regardless of what motivated it? Can’t people on social media just ignore hate speech? Increased penalties for hate crimes reflect that the crime wasn’t just targeted at an individual, but leaves an entire group feeling vulnerable. In addition, hate speech on the internet can reach a relatively large audience very quickly and can be a motivating factor for some to actually commit hate crimes. 

What about free speech?

Interestingly, the FBI points out “Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties”. The tension between free speech and preventing hate incidents is at the heart of American values. The Brave Coalition, in collaboration with the Mizel Museum and the Jewish Life Center-Chabad Denver North, invites you to consider these competing values at a unique screening of the incredible documentary Surviving Skokie, taking place on July 30, 2017 from 10am-12pm at the Stanley Marketplace Hangar.

The documentary tells the story of 7,000 Holocaust survivors in an Illinois community who, after years of silence, banded against a neo-Nazi group threatening to march on the town. This special event will include a post-screening question and answer session with the main subject of the film, an incredible man named Jack Adler. It will encourage reflection on hate in our society and contemplation of what individuals and communities can and should do in response. 

What can you do?

As the Surviving Skokie event approaches, here are some resources worth exploring:

#bebrave #wearebrave

A Reason to be Brave

On November 20th, 2016, our community woke up to find anti-Semitic hate graffiti sprayed across our children's playground at Isabella Bird (Izzi B) Community School. Disbelief- how did this happen here? - and horror quickly turned to action. Families in the community arrived at the school and cleaned the graffiti, replacing it with messages of hope and acceptance.

But the discomfort in knowing that our school had been targeted didn't go away. As a parent, I worried about my daughter's safety upon returning to school, but even more, I worried about the larger meaning of this incident. My daughter couldn't have put it in clearer terms. When I explained to her that someone had painted messages that said certain white people are better than other people (of color) her dark brown eyes got very wide and she said "That's not fair. That means you're safe because you're white, and I'm not safe because I'm not white." I cried.

When another mother at Izzi B reached out on Facebook and said she was going to speak to school and elected officials about the incident and what should be done, I contacted her immediately as did four other women in the neighborhood. Together we discussed Izzi B and our community. We knew the issues didn't stop with this incident. We had to do more. We had to move past our discomfort in discussing tender issues like race, class, religion, and bias with our neighbors and larger community. We had to be brave.

Brave Coalition is Born

That was the start of Brave Coalition, a Colorado non-profit, aimed at building inclusive communities by building awareness, shaping mindsets, and inspiring action. Already we've supported a Community Menorah Lighting, and hosted a film screening and panel discussion with Denver Mayor Michael B.Hancock and Denise Cox of Being ñ. We aim to continue these brave conversations in an effort to hear others' perspectives, identify our own biases, and find the common humanity that we all share.

It's time to be brave, start brave conversations, and build the community we want to live in. I hope you join us.

#bebrave #wearebrave