Doubts on Hate-Crime Laws Amid Rash of Anti-Gay Crimes

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A spate of anti-gay attacks in Manhattan last month renewed interest in hate crimes enforcement, leading one lawmaker, State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, to call for a review of whether the bias-crime statutes are as strong as they could be (and a public hearing about it next week).

Now a national watchdog group, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, reports that while violence against lesbians, gays, bisexual, queer and HIV-affected people was slightly less frequent in 2012 than in 2011—with 2,016 incidents (a 4 percent decrease)25 of which were murders (down from 30 in '11)—last year was still the fourth highest on record. What's more, some subgroups in the LGBTQ community were more likely than others to be targeted, with people of color nearly twice as likely to be victimized. According to the Coalition's survey of anti-violence programs in 16 states, nearly half of violence survivors claimed there was police misconduct in their cases, usually in the form of a hostile attitude.

Interestingly, though, the Coalition report expresses some misgivings about hate crimes laws—concerns very different from Hoylman's doubts about whether the laws are effective. “For some survivors and victims, bias classification is a critical component of having their incident acknowledged as hate violence, and this assists in their healing process after an incident of violence,” the report notes, but then adds: “Many LGBTQ and HIV-affected individuals and organizations feel that bias crime laws are not preventative and can be disproportionately used against communities of color. Recognizing the many documented racial and economic biases within the criminal legal system some LGBTQ survivors and victims are wary about using the criminal legal system to address the violence that they experience.”

Earlier this year, our Brooklyn Bureau reported on some of the complexities in hate-crime enforcement. Hate crimes are different from most other offenses in that guilt depends not on what a person does by why they do it. Determining that a crime was committed out of hate rather than anger, greed or any of the other passions that drive violence can be difficult— which is why some worry about the relatively low rate of convictions for hate crimes and others wonder if hate-crimes laws are applied selectively or over-broadly. Read our investigation here.

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