Sunday, November 25, 2007


Which of these is a hate crime?
(1) Invading a nation which had done nothing to us for made-up reasons to keep their natural resources for our own use, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people of a different race and religion than our own.
(2) Choosing to stay on vacation for four days instead of acting when tens of thousands of poor people, overwhelmingly African-American, are suffering and dying, trapped by a natural disaster.
(3) Hanging a noose on the door of a highly-esteemed African-American woman whose scholarship and speech illuminates the issue of racism.

I'd say, all of them. But none will appear in the FBI database.

Last week, the Department of Justice and the FBI released their Hate Crimes Statistics for 2006. This is an annual report in compliance with the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act performed by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The FBI collects data regarding criminal offenses that are motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or disability and are committed against persons, property, or society. (Crimes against society are defined as drug or narcotic offenses, gambling offenses, prostitution offenses, and weapon law violations.)

To read the assorted tables, go to the website. Unfortunately, the raw data used for the report is not available online. Various blogs and media outlets have been reporting on the conclusions. CBS News led with "Hate crime incidents in the United States rose last year by almost 8 percent, ... as racial prejudice continued to account for more than half the reported instances." The incidence of racial prejudice was "up 7.8 percent" from 2005.

"More than half of the victims were targeted because of their race, said CBS News correspondent Stephanie Lambidakis, and almost 60 percent of all known offenders are white. Heidi Beirick of the Southern Poverty Law Center says the numbers are probably higher than that. 'It's unfortunate that the numbers went up by almost 8 percent, but the truth is the FBI Hate Crimes statistics severely undercounts the number of hate crimes that we have in the United States every year,' she told CBS News. That's because only 12,600 of the nation's more than 17,000 local, county, state and federal police agencies - roughly three-quarters - participated in the hate crime reporting program in 2006."

For instance, left out of these data is the Jena 6 incident.

"As has happened since the FBI began collecting hate crime data in 1991, the most frequent motivation was racial bias, accounting for 51.8 percent of the incidents in 2006. That was down slightly from the 54.7 percent in 2005.

Also in 2006, religious prejudice was blamed for 18.9 percent of the incidents; sexual orientation prejudice for 15.5 percent; and ethnic or national origin for 12.7 percent."

I'm leaving it to other to comment on the meaning of this data. I especially recommend the Discounting Hate intelligence report from the SPLC, as well as their recommendations about What Can Be Done. My interest lies elsewhere at the moment.

Conspicuously absent from the list of hate crimes as they are defined above are attacks against women or children because they are women or children. These are the most targeted identity-based groups in the world, yet they are not included as victims of hate crimes.

Likewise, class is completely invisible in the data. I know Americans are confused about how to identify class, but we're also highly confused about gender and race, yet we find ways to make at least crude approximations about those identities in reporting crime, both perceived and real.

Also absent is any tabulation of offenders identities except for race -- I have to say, it appears to me as if the race category was included at least in part to allow the argument of "well, look, they attack their own people, it's not just whites doing the racial violence." Thus, we have no way of creating a profile of who is committing hate crimes. If early identification of risk and prevention were a goal, wouldn't that be critical information to have?

I think these gaps point to problematic attitudes not just within the criminal justice world but also shared by the general population, which can be summed up as:
(1) All crimes against people and property arise from "hate", why single out some definitions of hate as worse than others? and
(2) The belief in punishment as a deterrent to crime breaks down when it is necessary to apply it in the defense of target groups whose oppression is part of the "natural order" or perceived institutional prerogative.

And -- although I'm coming from a radically different stance, of course -- I have to admit, I can see validity in both these attitudes.

As someone who is and has been a multiple target for hate (depends on how I parse my "victimhood" that particular day), who has lost beloveds to hate-based violence, who has been up close and personal with monsters: I'm still not sure that kind of behavior deserves an offender category separate from, say, someone who sends workers into a coal mine long past the point of safety.

I'm not being disingenuous, here. I'm actually proposing that we begin discussion on expanding the working definition of "hateful" to include actions which would lock children into a prison cell because their parents were not born in the United States, or permit waterboarding on individuals who have no access to habeas corpus.

Likewise, while I can see the absolute need for collecting statistics, I think the point of this effort should be education, not necessarily punishment. Not under our current system. Morality should not be the province of the justice system.

Thomas Cahill was interviewed last week by Bill Moyers on his PBS Journal. Cahill is currently researching a new book which focuses on the death penalty. At one point, Moyers raised the issue of justice -- seeking justice for murder.

"Moyers: But there is the question of a crime and of justice as some people see it.

Cahill: The crime is secondary. Crime is secondary. There are no millionaires on death row nor will there ever be. Almost everyone on death row is poor. And do you really think that no millionaire ever committed a capital crime?"

I believe as progressives we should be just as concerned about how hate crimes legislation is applied unequally, falling primarily on those who are poor and nonwhite, as we are concerned about how anti-pornography legislation might erode other forms of free expression.

In May 1996, a Feminist Family Values Forum was held in Austin, Texas, sponsored by the Foundation for a Compassionate Society. Speakers included Miliani Trask, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, and María Jiménez. At one point, there was an open Q&A. I was one of the 2000 attendees, and I directed a question to the panel but especially to Angela Davis about the inherent contradiction of hate crimes laws.

This event was videotaped and transcribed into a book, which is now online (published and edited by Susan Bright), and my question with the response can be found on page 66. I'll reproduce it for you here. The eye contact and comprehension I got at that time from Ms. Davis has stayed with me.

"Question (from me): As a lesbian, I am really appalled at how much money and energy my community is spending in supporting so-called Hate Crimes Bills to make there be more vicious prison sentences for crimes against specific peoples, as if that's the answer. I'd like to hear what you think about that.

[snip -- other responses]

Angela: I was involved in some of the very early efforts to develop model legislation for laws against racist violence and then homophobic violence. I understand what you mean, the way the laws are often rendered very racist in their effects. Now, what do you do? Do you say, "Well, let's get rid of the laws?" Or do you recognize that laws themselves have never really brought about any change. It's the movement that people organize to demand that they be implemented in progressive ways, that creates change.

"The fact is, the conservatives have the upper hand on this, and that is why, increasingly, hate crimes laws are being used in ways that are objectively racist. As a matter of fact, I'd be interested in seeing how many cases are being brought against people of color for committing hate crimes against white people, as well? This is what is happening; this is the way the laws are being used. However, if our movements become larger and more effective, then that will change the way the laws themselves affect our lives."

Nor, clearly, has it worked to leave contradicting hate to our religious institutions, too many of which are fatally flawed in this country because of their dependence on notions of vengeance, retribution, eternal judgment, child sacrifice, and "redemption" without a meaningful process of accountability and amends. If Dubya had used an effective 12-step program instead of jiffy-stop "salvation" way back when, if someone had insisted on self-examination and change before he was off the hook, the world would not be currently miserable at his hands.

The only time in his life that George W. Bush attended public school instead of elite private schools was briefly in Midland, Texas, leaving after seventh grade. It's clear he looks on this as a golden age, a time when he was just one of the neighborhood kids. It's where he picked up what few social skills he has -- in seventh grade, it was all right to lay ham hands on the shoulders of a powerful girl and claim to be offering her a "massage". And, it should be noted, Midland in the 1950s had a school system that, like the town, was heavily segregated by class and race. I went to third grade there, and that was still the case in 1963.

When you grow up nontarget in segregation, you are damaged in your ability to relate to others. This damage must be undone, with curiosity and courage, or you will continue live in gated environments, fearfully wondering "why those people hate us so much". And your answer to that question will be disastrously wrong. It will progress you from being indifferent to the execution of hundreds of prisoners while you are Governor to indifference on a global scale.

My friend Jamila taught me a philosophy I use daily: Any difficulty I have with your difficulty is still my difficulty.

We in the reality-based community have recognized from the outset that the "war on terror" is rationalization for spreading our own brand of terror around the world and rolling back civil liberties here. But the question, often plaintive, that comes from both ordinary citizens and sometimes earnest politicians -- "Why do they hate us?" -- has not been answered in a way that gives us direction and hope. The answer will not come from crime statistics or evangelical sermons.

In the same interview of Thomas Cahill by Bill Moyer mentioned above, the two men are discussing cruelty on a societal level. Cahill points out that executions are front-page news in Italy, whoever performs them -- he says "They consider it to be a terrible injustice that people are still being executed. You know, you cannot join the European Union as a country if you execute people."

Going on to discuss the death penalty, Cahill states:

"Getting rid of it is a very new phenomenon. You know, it wasn't very long ago that all civil-- all societies had the death penalty. So, it's a little early to say how important it's going to be. I mean, a historian really wants a few hundred years to elapse before he makes a statement about anything. But I think it will be important. I think it's among the touchstones-- right now of where different societies are going. The crueler societies, China, Saudi Arabia, the United States support the death penalty. The easier, more open, more generous societies, like Western Europe do not.

MOYERS: And yet that's the continent that was ravaged by one war after another for so long.

CAHILL: They finally learned something. I really do believe that that — thanks especially to what happened in the First and Second World Wars in which they behaved abominably, they learned that it was time not to do that anymore."

Let's talk to each other in new ways, people, so this becomes true for us as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The FBI report says that anti-white hate crimes rose by 7 percent while anti-black hate crimes rose by 0.04 percent. Civil rights leaders have criticized the FBI hate crime report for grossly underestimating the number of hate crimes. The much more comprehensive Justice Department study, also released this month, lists 190,000 hate crimes per year compared to just 7,722 hate crimes in the FBI report. However, the Justice Department statistics show that whites and Hispanics are more likely to be victims of hate crimes than blacks: "Per capita rates of hate crime victimization varied little by race or ethnicity: about 0.9 per 1,000 whites, 0.7 percent blacks, and 0.9percent Hispanics."

The Justice Department study states that whites (including Hispanics) make up only 43 percent of hate crime offenders, even though they make up nearly 80 percent of the population. It identifies 38.8 percent of hate crime offenders as black, even though blacks make up only about 13 percent of the population. By contrast, the FBI numbers identified 58.6 percent of hate crimes offenders as white and 20.6 percent of hate crime offenders as black. According the Justice Department study, "About 4 in 10 white hate crime victims indicated that the offenders were white, and the same proportion reported the offenders to have been black. The small number of black hate crime victims precludes analysis of the race of persons who victimized them."

Hate crimes make up less than one percent of crimes nationwide. Of the 7,330 hate crime offenders listed in the FBI report, 3,957 committed racially motivated hate crimes. This means that 0.0013 percent of Americans committed racially motivated hate crimes. If racially motivated hate crimes were reliable indicators of racial prejudice in society, we could conclude that more than 99.9 percent of Americans are free of racial bias.

Violence between races not reported as hate crimes is a much more serious problem than racially motivated hate crimes. According to the FBI unified crime report, for example, there were three racially motivated murders during 2006. However, 573 of the 3,709 whites murdered in 2006 were murdered by blacks, while 208 of the 3,304 blacks murdered during the same year were murdered by whites.