What Is a Hate Crime?
It is important for the community to know what is — and is not — a hate crime. First and foremost, the incident must be a crime. Although that may seem obvious, we must be clear that most speech is not a hate crime, regardless of how offensive it may be. Moreover, a hate crime is not really a specific crime; rather it is a designation that makes available to the court an enhanced penalty if a crime demonstrates the offender’s prejudice or bias based on the actual or perceived traits of the victim. In short, a hate crime is not a crime, but rather a possible motive for a crime. Needless to say, it can be difficult to establish a motive for a crime, and even more difficult for prosecutors to prove it in court beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore the classification as a bias-related crime is subject to change as an investigation proceeds – even as prosecutors continue an investigation.
Under the Bias-Related Crime Act of 1989 (D.C. Official Code § 22-3700 et. seq.), to qualify as a hate or bias-related crime in the District of Columbia, an incident must meet the standards for both a “designated act” and a “bias-related crime:”
“Designated act,” meaning a criminal act, including arson, assault, burglary, injury to property, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, rape, robbery, theft, or unlawful entry, and attempting, aiding, abetting, advising, inciting, conniving, or conspiring to commit arson, assault, burglary, injury to property, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, rape, robbery, theft, or unlawful entry. D.C. Official Code § 22-3701.
“Bias-related crime,” meaning a designated act that demonstrates an accused’s prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibility, homelessness, physical disability, matriculation, or political affiliation of a victim of the subject designated act.
In order to successfully prosecute a hate crime, the government must establish beyond a reasonable doubt both that the defendant committed the crime, and that he or she was motivated by prejudice because of an actual or perceived difference. It is not sufficient to merely prove that the defendant belonged to a different group than the victim; the criminal act had to have been motivated by the prejudice. If a person is found guilty of a hate crime, the court may fine the offender up to 1½ times the maximum fine and imprison him or her for up to 1½ times the maximum term authorized for the underlying crime. D.C. Official Code § 22-3703.
Hate Crimes Are Against the Law
In 1989, the District of Columbia enacted a law to address the problem of hate crimes committed in DC. The law, entitled "The Bias-Related Crime Act of 1989" (DC Code §§ 22-4001 to 22-4004), provides for increased penalties whenever a crime is motivated by bias or hate.
The law also mandates that police in the District of Columbia collect data on bias-related acts and that the Office of the Mayor of the District of Columbia publish an annual report regarding the number and type of bias-related acts reported in the District.
Federal law (The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990) also requires the Metropolitan Police Department to report data on hate crimes to federal authorities annually.
Why Hate Crimes Should Be Reported
A person who commits a hate crime cannot be brought to justice and held accountable for his or her acts if the crime is not reported. In addition, collecting accurate data on the number of hate crimes is one of the only ways in which police, prosecutors, elected officials, and community organizations can determine the extent of the problem of hate crimes in the District of Columbia.
Why Hate Crimes Must Be Stopped
Unlike other crimes that target individuals, bias-related acts have a tremendous effect on an entire community. When one person is targeted because of his or her race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or other characteristic, others in the community who were not the direct targets of the hate crime may also feel at risk. Tensions between different communities can also arise as a result of a hate crime.
How Do I Reduce the Potential for Hate Crime?
Hate crimes are illegal, unacceptable, and hurt all in the community. No one should threaten or assault you based upon bias. Follow these Sexual-Orientation Hate Crime Prevention tips from the National Crime Prevention Council.
- Report Hate Crimes immediately to the police.
- Work with your local police to educate others about preventing hate crimes in your community.
- Don’t leave an establishment with a stranger. Arrange a future date in a public place with friends.
- Never agree to meet someone, in-person, you just met online.
- Avoid using alcohol or drugs that can impair your judgment.
- Trust your instincts. Remove yourself from unsafe situations.
- Avoid walking alone and late at night. Be aware of your surroundings when leaving a bar, meeting, or organization routinely targeted by hate groups.
How Do I Report Hate Crimes?
If you have been the victim of a hate crime, know of, or have witnessed a hate crime, you can report this in several ways
- Call 911 for a crime in progress or one that has just happened
- Call or visit your local Metropolitan Police Department district station.
- Call the Hate Crimes Hotline at (202) 727-0500, which has been established by the Metropolitan Police Department to assist victims of hate crimes. Callers can report incidents without having to give their names, addresses, or other personal information.
- Mail a written statement with the complaint that contains information to support a claim that the designated act constitutes a bias-related crime. Statements should be mailed to:
Hate Crimes Coordinator
Metropolitan Police Department
300 Indiana Avenue, NW, Room 3000
Washington, DC 20001