People hold placards during a “Stop Asian Hate” rally after the deadly shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States, March 20, 2021.
REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton
US anti-hate crime laws are inconsistent and limited in tackling biased violence, according to a report released by civil rights attorneys after the rise in anti-Asian hatred during the pandemic.
The report, released Wednesday by the Movement Advancement Project, is conducting a nationwide review of hate crime laws to reveal their variances and shortcomings in responding to crimes based on, among other things, prejudice against racial minorities, LGBTQ + and disabled people .
While the laws aim to protect these vulnerable communities, the report says they are less effective at doing so because of the bias in the criminal justice system.
“We need to improve our laws against hate crime and advocate for more comprehensive solutions to reduce hate in our country. Like any law, laws against hate crime alone will not solve such a big problem as increasing hate violence. ”Ineke Mushovic, executive director of Movement Advancement Project, said in a statement accompanying the report.
The discussion about hate crime has gained momentum after a reported increase in anti-Asian and anti-Semitic violence in the past year. In particular, the report highlighted the increase in racial crimes against Asian-American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) during the pandemic.
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported a 150% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes from 2019 to 2020, based on police statistics from the country’s 16 largest cities.
While racism towards AAPI is nothing new in the US, the report claimed that former President Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about the coronavirus helped fuel the surge.
The report also cited the spa shootings in Atlanta, Georgia earlier this year, in which a man killed eight people, most of whom were women of Asian descent. The man pleaded guilty to four of the murders on Tuesday and received a life sentence with no parole.
Although Georgia passed a hate law just a year before the shootings, a prosecutor in the case did not link any hate motivation to the killings.
Signs against violence against Asians will be posted outside a store in Chinatown on March 18, 2021 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
According to the report, 46 states plus DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands have their own anti-hate crime laws. But they are all very different, resulting in “a complex – and inconsistent – patchwork of policies and safeguards across the country,” the report said.
Most laws cover race, ethnicity and religion, for example, but there are “significant differences” when it comes to hate crimes based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and age, the report said. This shows the lack of uniformity in protection offered to some vulnerable communities.
The report also found inconsistencies in the collection and reporting of hate crime across the states, with only half of them requiring law enforcement agencies to report hate crime data to the FBI. Recording this data is critical to assessing the effectiveness of anti-hate crime laws, the report added.
Available data from the FBI reported a ten-year high in hate crimes in 2019, most of which are motivated by racial or ethnic bias.
Other data also suggests that the majority of hate crimes in the US are committed by whites, according to the report. However, the report found that hate crimes reported to the FBI by state law enforcement agencies disproportionately identify black people as perpetrators of hate crimes.
According to the report, black offenders were listed in law enforcement records in 13 states at a rate nearly 1.6 to 3.6 times the size of the state’s black population.
This shows the widespread bias in the criminal justice system, which the report says often prevents vulnerable communities from reporting their experiences of hate crime to law enforcement.
In addition to examining laws against hate crime, the report highlights ways in which they can be improved.
Many of the laws share a core element of criminal punishment when violated, but the report says there is “little evidence” that such improvements deter hate crimes. Instead, the report calls for non-cancer approaches that focus on rehabilitation and healing.
The Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act was cited as an example of improved legislation against hate crime.
The federal bill, signed by President Joe Biden in May, instructs the Justice Department to streamline its review of hate crimes related to the pandemic. It also gives local law enforcement agencies more resources to prosecute such crimes and provides guidance on how to reduce discriminatory language related to the virus.
The report also advocates expanding protection for communities affected by hate crimes and improving accountability and training of law enforcement agencies.
“Today we are at a turning point. While we know that laws against hate crime are important and have successfully brought perpetrators to justice, we also know that they can and should be more effective, ”wrote Judy Shepard, President of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, in the foreword to the report.
Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten and left to die, became an inspiration for a 2009 federal hate crime law.