Hate crimes can be devastating to the individuals and communities impacted. We take a look at what exactly hate crimes are, why they’re becoming more common, and how we can put a stop to them.
What is a hate crime?
A hate crime is a criminal offence against another person or property which is motivated by prejudice. Prejudice is a negative belief about another person for something which they cannot control, such as their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or physical ability.
Hate crimes can be physical, which includes things like violence on someone’s person, on their property or pets, and it also includes things like racist graffiti, and dumping rubbish outside homes or through letterboxes.
Hate crimes can also be non-physical. This includes things that are offline, for example sharing offensive leaflets or posters, making abusive gestures, and it could also be things that are online, for example offensive posts or harassment published on a website or on social media.
Are hate crimes rising?
In the UK and US reported incidents of hate crime are rising. A 2019 report by the US Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that hate crimes rose by 9% in 30 major American cities from 2017 to 2018, the steepest rise in reported cases since 2015. In the UK the number of hate crimes reported to the London Metropolitan police rose by 17% from 2017 to 2018.
Why have reported incidents risen? There are a few positive possible reasons for this, which include:
- Better understanding of hate crime. In 2019, the UK’s Home Office said that the rise in reported hate crime was not so much a result of crime getting worse, but instead a result of people better understanding what a hate crime is, and how to report it.
- Accountability on social media: The increase in online activism and video recordings of hate crime could be contributing to the increase in reported incidents of hate crime. For example, the killing of George Floyd in 2020 by police officers in the USA sparked global outrage on social media, after a viral video of the attack taken by an onlooker circulated online. This eventually led to mass protests across the world, and the eventual arrest of the police officer responsible for his death.
Other, more negative, possible causes for the reported rise in hate crime include:
- Brexit: Many people argue that in the UK, Brexit (the UK voting to leave the EU) has led to an increase in anti-immigrant and racist sentiments. The charity Stop Hate UK recorded a 32% increase in reports of hate crime in the 3 months following the referendum.
- Words of powerful politicians: Many people also believe that politicians’ statements can impact the prevalence of hate crime. For example, a 2019 Associated Press report noted that in the wake of Donald Trump’s call for a ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’, reported hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs spiked by 13% across the nation. Around the world there has recently been a rise in populist politicians, like Trump, who use racist and nationalist rhetoric as a campaigning tool.
What are the effects of hate crime?
Hate crimes can have very negative effects on people. In 2019 the US Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that victims of hate-crime were more likely than other crime victims to suffer from long-lasting negative effects, such as:
- Serious mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
- Concerns over physical safety. Victims may not feel comfortable or safe in an environment associated with the experience of hate crime.
Hate crimes can also have a lasting impact on wider society. Members of the victim’s community can change their actions and behaviour in response to a hate crime. This can include:
- Widespread fear: Hate crimes can make people feel unwelcome and unsafe in the community, sometimes causing whole families to leave their homes. A 2019 BBC report tells the story of Ayesha Abdol-Hamid, who after experiencing Islamophobic hate crime in their home town of Neath Port Talbot, fled to Cardiff to escape abuse and intimidation.
- Social tensions and riots: Of all types of crimes, hate crimes are the most likely to create or increase social tensions. This can lead to community-wide conflict or riots. In the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 in response to the rising level of police violence against and killing of black people across the US. Although the protests themselves have largely been peaceful, there have been well-documented incidents of the US authorities taking a ‘heavy-handed’ approach to protestors, including violently arresting them.
Why do people commit hate crimes?
There are a number of factors at play; these can include:
- Some people who commit hate crimes learn prejudiced behaviour from their social environments. The negative influence of family, friends, and peers, may lead to people adopting prejudices. In 2020, NBC News reported on the murder of transgender American Marilyn Cazares in Imperial County, Brawley. Her mother, Rosa Diaz, believed the openly hostile environment in Brawley towards LGBTQ+ residents contributed to Cazares’ rejection from the community, and her eventual murder.
- The perceived threat that is posed by some groups in society (for example, regarding competition for jobs, housing, and other resources) can cause people to develop prejudice against others, eventually leading to hate crime. In 2020, African American Ahmaud Arbery, was shot and killed in Brunswick by a neighbour, Gregory McMichael. McMichael wrongly assumed that he was an armed robber, and the shooting triggered international protest against the racial stereotyping of Black people.
- Lack of interaction with people from different races, ethnicities, sexualities, abilities, and ages can lead to stereotyping, prejudice and in extreme cases, hate crime. According to a 2018 article in the Guardian, an unnamed resident from Baltimore expressed the fear many African-Americans have at the prospect of living in majority-white neighbourhoods. Perceived threats included violence at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group with a history of violence against minorities.
How can you tackle hate crime?
There are several things we can all do to fight hate crime, such as:
- Reporting incidents. If you’re the victim of or witness to a hate crime, you should report it to the police. For emergencies, call 999 in the UK and 911 in the US. For non-emergencies, dial 101 in the UK or contact your local police in the US.
- Being a good ally. In our guide on Things you can do to help your LGBTQ+ friend, we look at ways you can stand up to and challenge negative behaviours and influence others.
- Getting support: Organisations such as Safe Horizon in the US and Report It in the UK to provide support, advice, and resources for victims of hate crimes.