Is Everyone Protected by Hate Crime Laws?

Everyone is protected by hate crime laws, even though minorities are more likely to suffer them.

Yes, hate crime laws protect everyone from bias crimes. Hate crime laws prohibit committing a crime against a person because of the person’s race, religion (including atheism), ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Because everyone has a race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, hate crime laws protect everyone. For general information on hate crimes, see Hate Crimes: Laws and Penalties.

Laws Protect All Victims of Hate

In practical terms, the vast majority of hate crimes are committed against people who are members of racial, religious, or ethnic minorities, or who are gay or transgender. However, hate crimes are also committed against members of “majority” groups, and defendants in those cases may also be prosecuted and convicted. For example, in 2011, according to a statistical report from the FBI, just over 16% of racially-motivated hate crimes were committed against white victims. In Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U.S. 476 (1993), an important US Supreme Court case upholding hate crime laws, the defendants were convicted of beating a white teenager because of his race.

Some scholars and activists have argued that hate crimes are a sort of affirmative action and therefore members of majority groups should not be protected from hate crimes. However, no hate crime law in the United States is drafted that way. Any legislation that offered protection to members of one religion or ethnicity but not others would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional.

There is some evidence that violence by racial minorities against whites is much less likely to be labeled as a hate crime than violence by whites against racial minorities. Some theorists opine that law enforcement officers are more likely to ascribe “hateful” motives to white defendants because violence by whites is thought to be out of character. In contrast, the theory goes, stereotypes about the criminality of people of color mean that violence is expected and accepted, so no greater motive needs to be found when a person of color commits a crime.

The Defendant's Group Membership Does Not Matter

The fact that the defendant belongs to the same race, religion, or ethnicity as the victim is irrelevant, so long as the victim was attacked because of some prohibited reason. For example, in In re Vladimir P., 670 N.E.2d 839 (Ill. App. 1996), three teens attacked a 13-year-old Orthodox Jewish boy, threatening him, calling him a Jew, and throwing a knife at him. The court rejected one of the defendant’s argument that because he too was Jewish he could not have committed a hate crime. Members of protected groups can also harbor animus.

Help for Victims of Hate Crimes

If you believe you have been a victim of a hate crime, you can contact the FBI. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League also track hate and extremist groups and their websites have information and statistics on hate crimes.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with a hate crime, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you how your case is likely to fare in court, depending on state law, and the assigned judge and prosecutor. An attorney can help you protect your rights.

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