Hate crimes incidents occur nationally between 6,000 and 8,000 times annually, and many be increased by traumatic national events. Hate crime rates spiked in 2001, but have steadily decreased since then, though hate crimes between religious groups have increased slightly. Most offenders are young and act more out of personal sentiment than organizational strategy, which may be why hate crimes in Pennsylvania are mainly centered around the two big cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Nationally hate crimes occur across the board and affect all races and most demographics, however in Lycoming county at least hate crimes do not appear to pose a significant reported problem.
Within the last decades, criminal law has delineated a new subset of crime: the hate crime. Hate crimes are defined as any crime "committed against individuals or groups or property based on the real or perceived race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, or ethnicity of the victims" (Partners Against Hate, 2003) It is the bigoted motivation behind such crimes that separates them from more traditional criminal acts. Hate crimes can be as severe as murder, such as the infamous Matthew Shepherd killing. They may also be as innocuous as racially biased graffiti or intimidation. Hate crime has been a relatively consistent phenomena since it was first tracked, though there have been occasional changes in the populations targeted.
According to FBI statistics, criminals of hate seem to be relatively evenly dispersed among the races. In 2000, about 65-75% of hate crime offenders were White and 19% were Black, which is consistent with the population demographic. (Partners Against Hate, 2003) While this does represent slightly higher Black involvement in committing hate crimes if spread across the whole demographic, it is important to realize that the vast majority of offenders are young people, and the demographic of young Blacks is more similar to this ration. (American Psychological Association, 2004) About 5% were multi-racial, and an astonishing 14% were Asian-Pacific origin Islanders. (Partners Against Hate, 2003) The casual reader might be more surprised to discover that not only are hate crime offenders multi-racial, but hate crime victims appear to be multi-racial as well. In fact, about one fifth of racial hate crimes are anti-white, and the majority of anti-homosexual hate crimes target white homosexual males. (Infoplease, 2004)
Hate crimes are most likely to occur in a neighborhood setting, with 32% occurring "on or near residential properties." (Partners Against Hate, 2003) Colleges are also a targeted area, with 11% taking place at schools.
While the vast majority of hate crimes take place between people (ranging from intimidation and mere threats to outright attacks and even murder), almost a quarter (22%) are directed instead at property. Such attacks may include spray-painting hate-filled slogans as graffiti, or in more serious cases destroying places where targeted individuals gather. Churches, synagogues, mosques, or bars may be burned or vandalized. (Partners Against Hate, 2003)
Hate crimes are usually given more severe penalties than identical crimes without similar motivations. This is not, contrary to the suggestions of certain right wing elements, merely because they target protected classes. Hate crimes are particularly worrisome because they create an environment of fear which may have a dampening or otherwise destructive effect on all members of a group. The conventional wisdom concerning hate crimes is as follows: "They are intended to send a threatening message to a particular group within a community... A hate crime is more serious than a conventional crime because it is directed at more than just the immediate victim. Hate crimes are intended to intimidate members of the victim's community." (CFPA, 2004) It is important for law enforcement to understand that this mantra has both true and false aspects. It is very true, and central to an understanding of the importance of hate crime statutes, that such crimes do terrorize entire communities. They are more severe than regular crime because they effect more than just the victim and his or her immediate family -- they harm all of society. However, in investigating hate crime it may be important to keep in mind that the hate crime offender may not have such far reaching goals in mind. Hate crimes may or may not be immediately intended to intimidate entire subsets of people. Though the common conception of hate crimes imagines that they are usually committed by organized hate organizations such as the KKK or that they are calculated to cause terror, the reality is that most hate crimes are more spontaneous. In a study performed in Los Angeles, less than 5% of all hate crime offenders were members of hate groups. "Most hate crimes are carried out by otherwise law-abiding young people who see little wrong with their actions...personal prejudice [is]...blinding the aggressors to the immorality of what they are doing. Such prejudice is most likely rooted in an environment that disdains someone who is "different" or sees that difference as threatening." (American Psychological Association, 2004) Alcohol and drugs often push people over the thin line between privately held personal prejudice and direct action against a scapegoated "sample member" of the hated community.
The most comprehensive information regarding hate crimes is collected at the federal level, with information coming from state and local officials is often a little less reliable or complete. additionally, a word of caution is due regarding all collected statistics on this subject. Hate crimes are judged by motivation rather than action, and so their existence may be subjective in some cases. Also, because reporting is not mandatory either at the local or state level, all statistics may be slightly skewed and numbers which record only reported and verified cases may show significantly less of a problem than what actually exists. For example, "In 1996, only 16% of law enforcement agencies reported any hate crimes in their regions." (American Psychological Association, 2004) Additionally, many individuals in traditionally oppressed groups may fear approach the police with their concerns. According to one study, only "about one-third of the hate crime victims reported the incident to law enforcement authorities," (American Psychological Association, 2004) because of fear of retaliation or the belief that they would not be taken seriously, or be even further victimized. Uneasy relationship between minority groups and law enforcement heightens this trend. So Hate crime estimated provided by the FBI and other government sources are generally not consisted with estimates provided by social scientists. "Typically, data on hate crimes collected by social scientists and such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force show a higher prevalence of hate crime than do federal statistics." (American Psychological Association, 2004) Despite these concerns, it may be necessary for government officials to constrain themselves to the actual reported government data available rather than make wild (even if theoretically feasible) extrapolations based on psychological or social studies.
With this in mind, it is possible to turn to recent statistics presented by the federal government regarding hate crimes. Here, one finds that even for professionals analyzing these numbers, "It is difficult to tell if hate crimes are on the rise or on the decline." Statistics have only been gathered since 1991, and reporting is voluntary. Among "those States and localities that have reported hate crimes, the number of incidences nationwide has continued to hover annually somewhere between 6,000 and 8,600." (Partners Against Hate, 2003) There is some evidence that hate crimes are actually decreasing, as the publicity regarding them increases (there may be a causal relationship there). In 1996 there were 8,758 incidents reported. In 1999 there were only 7,876. (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001) In 2001 the FBI reported 9,726 hate crime incidents (Infoplease, 2004), whereas the most recent available statistics, which are from 2002, report that the following year there were only 7,462 hate crime incidents. This is a significant decrease. The puzzle as to whether crimes are decreasing or increasing continues: since the FBI started collecting data (in 1991) 80,000 incidents have been reported, which averages out to about 7,300 or so incidents per year (which is consistent with what was experienced in 2002). Taking that average, one would merely suggest that 2001 had an unusual peak experience which has already dropped back down to normal rates.
This peak might be related to the incidents of September 11th. There were apparently so many documented claims regarding discrimination and hate crimes following September 11th that year that "the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) expanded its capacity to collect information by initiating a second toll-free hotline. During one 12-hour period following the attacks, the volume of calls peaked at approximately 70 calls per hour." (Partners Against Hate, 2002) Considering that if each of those 70 calls represented one true hate crime incident that one peak hour would have represented about 0.7% of the total hate crimes for that year (and that 12-hour period representing about 8% of the year's crimes), then one can see that the entire year's data was likely…