General Question

KatawaGrey's avatar

Why is a hate crime considered worse than the same crime with no "hateful" overtones? (PLEASE READ DETAILS).

Asked by KatawaGrey (21461points) December 11th, 2011

I understand the heinous nature of, say, beating a man because he is black, gay or Jewish. It is a terrible thing, however, what I do not understand is why it is considered worse to beat up a man for being black than it is simply to beat up a man for no reason at all. I have always wondered why a hate crime is considered worse than doing the same thing with no “hateful” motivation.

In other words, why is it considered less bad for me to hurt someone because of a reason other than those covered by the term “hate crime”?

Note: I would say that hurting someone is always hateful, but I have put hateful in quotation marks in the above question to denote a hate crime and non-hate crime.

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65 Answers

bkcunningham's avatar

I understand exactly what you mean, @KatawaGrey. I’ve wondered this myself. It is just politics.

JLeslie's avatar

I say the same thing. I have questioned here on fluther whether we really need laws for hate crimes, when we already have laws for physically assaulting or killing someone. I never really fight to get rid of hate crime legislation, it is more of just out loud thinking for me. I guess maybe hate crime legislation is an effort to stop crimes against those who are discriminated against, it is not just a random crime, but hurting a specific target, and the laws raise awareness of these sorts of crimes. Also a community might overlook a hate crime if the community in general damns the person who was attacked, so the law comes to the aid of the victim, which is what our laws are for, to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Well, one reason for our laws.

HungryGuy's avatar

I think because hating someone for the circumstances they were born and had no control over is more horrific than hating someone for cause, or money, or just random kicks.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@HungryGuy: But if I shoot you because I don’t like you, you’re just as dead as if I shoot you because of your skin color.

Edit to add: My point is that the consequences of the crimes are the same, but one is punished more severely which makes no sense to me.

HungryGuy's avatar

@KatawaGrey – I guess it boils down to why you don’t like me. If it’s because I beat you to that parking space at the mall on Black Friday, then that’s cause (not a good cause, but a cause). But if it’s because I have blue eyes and fair skin and red hair, and you don’t like people with blue eyes and fair skin and red hair, and you shoot me over something that I have no control over and doesn’t even concern you, then that makes it a worse crime to some people.

Facade's avatar

Maybe it’s akin to the same reasons there are different degrees of murder according to the law.

HungryGuy's avatar

Good answer ^

marinelife's avatar

It is to put the stamp of disapproval on bigotry, and to make people think twice about being prejudiced.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@marinelife: I would think hurting anybody under any circumstances should have a “stamp of disapproval.”

Rheto_Ric's avatar

If the crime exists because of hatred, then it’s a hate crime. By that I mean, if someone beats you up because you’re black, gay, etc. etc. then it’s a hate crime, if they wouldn’t have done so had you NOT been black, gay, etc. etc.
I kill you, and I kill you because you’re black, are different crimes IF the first crime would not exist because you are safely white. If that makes sense. That’s how I see it.

Coloma's avatar

I don’t see any difference, beating anyone, human or animal is a crime.
Quite frankly, if racism is all about NOT being biased by color or creed, it’s reverse racism to claim that that any hate crime is more or less worse than another.

Splitting hairs, like is it worse to kill a white rabbit or a black one. Psht!

Lightlyseared's avatar

Because motive is important. Motive is the difference between manslaughter and murder 1.

MrItty's avatar

I don’t think it’s about which is a worse crime – I think it’s about who’s a worse person. If you kill someone for kicks, you’re a murderer. If you kill someone because of his race, you’re both a murderer and a racist. Worse person = worse punishment.

JLeslie's avatar

What about this, if a serial killer always chooses tall bonds as his victims, he is essentially choosing his victim based on race, color, height. Is he as bad as a hate crime killer? Or, it only counts if society at large considers the victim a protected minority? Again, I am just thinking out loud, I do not have a strong opinion on the topic, although I lean towards not having hate crime laws. It seems like unnecessary laws, like making a law thay Sharia law is not ok in America. Redundant with our laws that already exist and the constitution and other documents we hold dear.

Although @Lightlyseared makes a good point, it goes to motive.

There was an old question that used to float around, is raping a nun worse than raping someone who isn’t a nun? It is kind of similar.

digitalimpression's avatar

Because it makes a better news story.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@JLeslie: That’s my point exactly. A killer is a killer is a killer. Racists don’t just go around maiming and killing black people. A killer who is also a racist kills specifically black people. A killer who is not racist might just kill anybody. Either way, someone is dead and someone else killed them. I don’t think motivation should have anything to do it. A death shouldn’t be considered less heinous because the victim was killed for some reason other than race, sexual orientation or religion.

wonderingwhy's avatar

I had a whole epistle on this, but I’ll settle for it being a weakly reasoned division of who can get away with a “crime of passion” defense.

JLeslie's avatar

@KatawaGrey I think the point is premeditated murder is different than accidental or the person snapped murder, but still someone wound up dead. So, maybe hate crime murder is another type of degree regarding intent.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@JLeslie: You are probably right, but I still don’t like it.

tinyfaery's avatar

I always thought hate crime legislation was about the extent to which someone is a danger to society. Yes, all murderers are a danger to society, but most murders have some sort of personal motive, which makes them less likely to reoffend. But, if you commit murder because you
hate blacks/gays (for example), your crime is not about the type of person you are, but about the type of person your victim was. I think these people are much more dangerous than a person who commits murder because of money or sex; sex and money are the two primary reasons people murder.

Then again, it might just be another deterrent.

Aethelflaed's avatar

As best as I can tell, it was originally intended to help fight crime against specific groups, especially in cases where the other locals in charge of prosecution (judge, DA, etc) might be looking to help get the accused get as light a sentence as possible.

Honestly, I’m not a fan. I don’t think murdering someone because they’re gay is really any worse than murdering someone because they have brown eyes or embezzled from you. I get the murder ½/manslaughter thing, but that’s really measuring if you had motive, and for how long, than what the motive is. And I really don’t like the idea of legislating what’s in someone’s head.

incendiary_dan's avatar

I consider it in part a deterrent. Hate crimes suggest a strong possibility of it being a trend, or turning into one.

Rheto_Ric's avatar

I think this topic is being over-complicated slightly. Calling a crime a hate crime is not saying that a ‘regular’ murder is any less heinous, it’s simply categorizing what kind of murder it was. Why did A kill B? For money = a callous-greedy-desperate murder. Take your pick as to the motive. But if it was because B is black? That = a ‘hate crime’ murder. I don’t see the problem in trying to understand the motives by labeling a crime as a hate crime, if hate was part of the equation.
A serial killer who murders women is still a hate crime. He blatantly hates women.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. Like many laws here in the US, it is a big steaming pile of BS. You are right, the act IS the act. The outcome for the victim is quite the same. They are not going to hurt or bleed less just because who pummeled them did it for a Cartier watch and not for anything, just because he was gay, Black, Jewish, or Asian. The bones break just the same.

It is all about media hype and political bamboozling. We in the US want to believe we are in a kumbaya state where Jim Crow, Chan Crow, Sancho Crow, etc has been done away with. No one wants to openly believe racism and such thrives well and still here in the US. Those who smash that façade has to be made an example of, thus punished worse, to let the next chucklehead who would dare do so, know how hard the law will whack his pee pee.

This asinine way of dealing with crime extends to just about any area of crime, most ill-used. It helps get politicians elected and the public watching the news.

The way of even classifying it is nebulous. Is there a 5 point standing it is applied to, or the DA just get to make it up as he/she see fit? If I were to rob an Asian guy and beat him, did I do so for his iPhone, or did I take the iPhone as a byproduct of me beating him because it fell from his back pack? If I was overheard 30 min prior complaining about the Asians at the drycleaners and how they always messed up my shirts, does that make it a hate crime? What if my beef was just with those drycleaner Asian, and no other Asians, still a hate crime? Unless a person was part of a group that targeted members of other races it is hard to say, they did so put of pure hatred. Even so, if I smash a guy in the head with a brink as a gang initiation, for thrills, or because he was gay, Asian, etc, that won’t change the concussion he will have or the amount of stitches in his head.

Rheto_Ric's avatar

It’s not about the victim, it’s about the person committing the act. If they are racist, and they go around beating up black people, it is labelled a hate crime. Divide that up: -
If they are racist and they beat someone up, there’s a crime and it was committed by a hateful person, hence ‘hate crime’. This crime WOULD NOT have occurred but for the fact that they are hateful towards black people.
If they are racist, but meek and mild with it, then they are simply hateful, but there’s no crime committed.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I don’t understand either. A crime is a crime. Beating a person is beating a person, no matter their color, political stance or religious views. I do draw a big fat line between harming adults and children though.

flutherother's avatar

Following the recent riots in London the courts were very hard on offenders, not because they had, say, looted a bottle of water, but because they had taken part in serious public disorder and the public expected a strong response. The context was more important in sentencing than the actual crime itself. If there were an outbreak of attacks on the elderly, the courts would impose harsher sentences to try to curb the trend. This is understandable and only reflects what the public expects of the judicial system.

Mariah's avatar

Same reason premeditated murder is considered worse than other murders, I’d imagine. The intent behind it.

ETA: Oops, now that I’ve bothered to look at other answers, I see my point was already made by @Facade.

incendiary_dan's avatar

It’s kind of like how black, Latino, and indigenous people get harsher sentences than white people. It’s the courts deciding that they want to discourage behavior (e.g. being black, Latino, or indigenous).~

Too much irony, maybe?

JLeslie's avatar

@incendiary_dan You think courts dole out harsher sentences to minorities to discourage the behavior? I never heard that before. I always thought of it as a prejudice. Ironically.

Nullo's avatar

Depends on whether the justice system is for punishment or correction. I suppose that calling a crime something other than what’s on the face of it would help a criminal learn what it was that he got wrong. As if he didn’t know.

I feel that ultimately, it’s an irrelevant distinction.

janbb's avatar

Murder for any reason is murder but I think many acts are deemed hate crimes to distinguish them from lesser crimes such as vandalism. Painting swastiskas on synagogues or burning crosses should be punished much more harshly than mere vandalism.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@JLeslie I know that they do, often in cases where people of color routinely get something punished as a felony when whites doing the same crime get it as a misdemeanor. The reasons for that are often individual prejudice of judges, but it’s consistent enough to call it systemic. There are also inconsistent minimum punishing laws, like how until recently crack cocaine was punished 10 times as severely as powder cocaine, despite no difference in danger, and the crack is used more by black people. Anyway, I’m getting off track maybe a bit too far.

HungryGuy's avatar

Basically, the USA effed itself up way back when it kidnapped people from Africa to make them slaves, and is why questions like this even exist.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@janbb: That I certainly agree with, but specifically with causing bodily harm to someone, I don’t think the one crime should be considered worse than the other. If I beat you up, I beat you up. Why does my motivation matter? I hurt you, maybe even killed you. Why should it be punished less severely if I did it because you looked at me funny?

bkcunningham's avatar

The only thing you have to consider, that perhaps you and I didn’t, @KatawaGrey; is crimes that aren’t violent to a person physically. Like speech or vandalism.

janbb's avatar

@bkcunningham See my post above.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Calling things “hate crimes” and punishing them more severely than just the crime without the “hate,” is throwing a sop to those who are most often the victims of crimes based on race or sexual preference or gender.

submariner's avatar

I haven’t read every response on this thread, but I’ve read enough to be disappointed. I thought the answer would be obvious.

A hate crime differs from superficially similar crimes in that it victimizes a group as such rather than one or more individuals.

If I hear that a jealous husband has killed his wife’s lover, I might deplore it, but in a practical sense it does not affect me very much. If I hear that someone, perhaps a KKK group, has lynched a Catholic and hung a sign around the corpse’s neck that reads, “death to all papist scum”, then I perceive myself to be targeted and will alter my behavior accordingly, as will every other member of the targeted group in the community. In both cases, only one person has actually died, but the hate crime has affected many more people than the crime of passion.

JLeslie's avatar

@submariner That would go to how the judge, and society at large of course, perceives the assailant in regards to whether they are considered a danger to society when bail and sentencing is being considered. It’s like serial killer vs wife killer.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@submariner If I hear that someone, perhaps a KKK group, has lynched a Catholic and hung a sign around the corpse’s neck that reads, “death to all papist scum”, then I perceive myself to be targeted and will alter my behavior accordingly, as will every other member of the targeted group in the community. There are times where it is crystal clear the intent. Most serial killers don’t kill by putting a rope about their vics neck and pulling them up a tree. To have a dislike for someone, and then a fight breaks out, even if the victim was provoked, and the victim is killed in the process, to me doesn’t rise to the form of a hate crime. Many people fight others for many reason, often stupid ones, but they do, and the race of the other person may or may not have played a reason, but it is not as clear as tying someone to a steak and burning them alive, or hanging them from a tree.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I agree with @tinyfaery and @incendiary_dan – it’s not about the end which is death for the is also about the intent..if someone is robbing a store and kills the clerk because the clerk is in the way…that had nothing to do with the clerk…we consider hate crimes differently because they are different in intent…not that they’re any less or more senseless…

incendiary_dan's avatar

Here’s a sticky subject: why aren’t more crimes committed against women, that are shown to be routinely targeting women (rape, sexual assault, spousal abuse), seen as hate crimes? Basically all sociologists, psychologists, etc. accept that rape is about power and gender hierarchies, yet rape is not only not a hate crime, it’s often given less severe punishments (luckily that’s changing in a lot of areas, though).

bkcunningham's avatar

Why aren’t crimes against children hate crimes?

CaptainHarley's avatar


Excellent question! I think the answer has more to do with political influence than anything else.

bkcunningham's avatar

I agree, @CaptainHarley. It is politics.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@CaptainHarley Could be. I tend to think it’s probably just a big blind spot in this culture. It’s still pretty steeped in patriarchy, just less severely than some time ago. Hating women is still just so common.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Not ME, man! I LOVE women! [ looks over shoulder ] I mean… I LOVE my wife! Heh!

Nullo's avatar

@incendiary_dan Calling down hellfire and damnation upon rapists is not inconsistent with patriarchy. Was a fella in Germany who very patriarchally castrated the dirty old man that his daughter was seeing. I suspect that a rapist would not get better treatment.
I’ll grant the woman-hating; I just went through a few comment sections on Youtube. * looks for Hellfire&Damnation playbook *

KatawaGrey's avatar

@incendiary_dan: I’ve wondered the same thing about people seeking asylum in the US. You can seek asylum based on religious or racial persecution, but not gender-based persecution. Makes no sense to me.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@KatawaGrey I hadn’t thought about the gender component of asylum, surprisingly. Interesting factoid.

JLeslie's avatar

@KatawaGrey @incendiary_dan I don’t think it is very easy to get asylum with religious or racial persecution. I am not well informed on the topic though, just going by my experience in FL. Cubans get asylum by just making it to shore. Haitians argue they should too since their government is a mess, but that they are discriminated against because they are black and not granted asylum. I think political asylum is still the only thing that is granted in significant numbers, and that is when there is a specific policy in plave for the specific country. But, the point is a good one, to give haven to gay people who would be persecuted in their own country.

OpryLeigh's avatar

I really want to answer this question but I am struggling to put my thoughts into words. I believe the media may have something to do with it, creating more hype over a certain kind of crime in order to make it look worse than another to the reader. The more sensational it is the more papers it will sell.

janbb's avatar

I really think there is a very serious intent behind it and that is to minimize or at least highlight prejudice. I don’t think it has much to do with media hype at all. I don’t have the energy or strength right now to discuss this or dig up research articles but if you want to look at organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League or any of the organizations dealing with LBGTQ issues, you should find a good discussion of hate crimes. Part of the work of my life has been involved in fighting prejudices of all kinds and I think there is true justification for the hate crimes designation. It is not just liberal PCness, it is not just media hype – it is the reason Matthew Shepherd and Brandon Teena were killed.

mattbrowne's avatar

Suppose a criminal robs a store. And suppose the owner verbally attacks the robber.

Then the robber hits the owner in the face and says:

Scenario 1:

“Shut up and give me the money!”

Scenario 2:

“Shut up nigger and give me the money! You assholes have to no right to own stores.”

See the difference?

JilltheTooth's avatar

@mattbrowne : I don’t anyone who doesn’t see the difference in attitude. The Q is more about severity of punishment for the same violent crime.

mattbrowne's avatar

@JilltheTooth – To me it’s not the same violent crime. In the second scenario there’s emotional violence plus physical violence.

JilltheTooth's avatar

OK, @mattbrowne , then I’ll say the same outcome, person is dead, person is brutally beaten, whatever. I think you knew what I meant. We get that the motivation etc etc was different. It’s not an unreasonable Q.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@JilltheTooth so lets assume you kill someone. They step out into the road and you hit them with your car. It’s not your fault. There is nothing you could have done to prevent the accident but still, someone died. Should you be treated the same way as someone who violently beats a man to death in cold blood? By the reasoning of the majority of people here the answer is yes. The outcome was the same, a man died, so the punishment must be the same.

JilltheTooth's avatar

No, @Lightlyseared , I guess I over simplified in my response to @mattbrowne , assuming that the people here would be astute enough to understand me, since nowhere did I say an accident should be dealt with as harshly as any kind of crime.. An accident is a different thing from a brutal attack. Duh. I was just pointing out that in some cases, when the legislation dictates that a crime be prosecuted or sentenced differently due to “hate” motivation as opposed to other motivation it can be hard to see where the line should be crossed. Gotta love Fluther for just such an interpretation. Geez.

Lightlyseared's avatar

But that’s the point isn’t it? The law could legislate that accidents be punished in the same way as any other crime and that punishment be based soley on the outcome. In fact there’s probably plenty of people whose family members have been killed in RTA’s who think it should work like that.

JilltheTooth's avatar

No, I don’t think that’s the point at all. Never mind.

bkcunningham's avatar

Suppose in your example, @Lightlyseared, the scenerio is exactly the same as you described. Lets assume you kill someone. They step out into the road and you hit them with your car. It’s not your fault. There is nothing you could have done to prevent the accident but still, someone died. Except, after the accident, you are heard saying something along the lines of, “Oh, it was just a dumb _____. One less I have to tolerate.”

Should I be punished for my thoughts?

Consider these examples: Suppose during the process of a carjacking, I throw you out of the car with a bullet in your head and I’m heard saying, “Take that queer.”

Suppose during a carjacking, I throw an old woman out of the car with a bullet to the head and I’m heard saying, “Take that old woman.”

Suppose during a carjacking, I throw a small child out of the car with a bullet to the head and I’m heard saying, “Take that you little snot nose.”

Should I be punished more for killing a gay man compared to me killing a small child or an old woman? It is just something to think about.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@bkcunningham it doesn’t matter if you kill a gay man or a straight man. What matters is why you choose to kill gay men. And this is not about punishing people for their thoughts. If you want you can think than queer people, muslims and blacks are an insult to gods green earth. Thats up to you. What this is about is punishing peoples actions.

mattbrowne's avatar

@JilltheTooth – The second scenario is related to the potential of more killings because of the hatred involved. The first one is about robbery and one killing. This still means that the first one is a horrible crime too. We are talking about ‘worse’ on a huge scale of bad things when comparing the two scenarios.

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