Nearly two decades ago, after being involved in the movement to pass a hate crime law in Georgia, I was compelled to switch sides. I left the hate crime movement after witnessing troubling discussions about strategies to enforce such laws only in ways that would produce the kind of hate crime statistics the movement desired while avoiding the creation of statistics they wished to suppress.
I realized, earlier than most, that the hate crimes movement is less about justice than about advancing political agendas.
By the time I got involved with the hate crime coalition, I had already been an advocate for crime victims. Whether I was lobbying for truth-in-sentencing of sex criminals or working to get Atlanta’s refugee and immigrant communities to trust the police, I always had the same goal: to provide equal justice to every victim, as well as equal, and appropriate, punishment for every criminal offender, no matter his or her identity.
Hate crime laws reject this notion of equal justice. The way they are enforced and the way hate crime statistics are compiled bear little similarity to other types of crime-fighting, statistics-gathering, or criminal prosecution. Even worse, the leaders of this movement justify abandoning equal justice before the law by relying on what can only be called misrepresentations and frauds.
The first fraud invoked by hate crime activists and their media allies involved claims that white racists were burning scores of black churches across the South in the mid-1990s. Churches indeed were burning, but the congregations (and the arsonists) were both black and white, and the main motives identified by a federal commission ranged from mental illness to mere vandalism to insurance fraud. Even after U.S.A. Today was forced to admit that “analysis of the 64 fires since 1995 shows only four can be conclusively shown to be racially motivated,” President Bill Clinton and advocates for hate crime laws continued to tout a purported tidal wave of racist black church burnings to justify the passage of hate crime laws at the federal level and in the states.
The second fraud perpetrated by advocates for hate crime laws involved their efforts to ensure that the “gender bias” category in state hate crime laws would never be used to prosecute even the most prolific serial rapists and killers, even those who kidnapped woman after woman, or boy after boy.
At the 1997 White House Conference on Hate Crimes, which I observed with an audience of invited guests in Atlanta, the particular problem of counting women (or men, or children) as victims of gender-bias hate crime rape was clearly a source of ongoing conflict between Clinton and others in the hate crimes movement.
Now, years later, the recently-released memos passed between Clinton, his legal advisor Elena Kagan, and his point person in the Department of Justice for hate crime laws, Eric Holder, reveal their overwhelming concern in 1997 that heterosexual women would – if these laws were applied as written – represent by far the largest category of victims of serious hate crimes committed in America. Moreover, many of the criminals committing these hate crimes would be minority males.
In order to avoid this undesirable outcome, the leaders of the hate crime movement perpetrated a vast fraud. When asked publicly, they deflected questions about gender bias rape or they said that sex crime victims would, of course, be counted as victims of hate crime based on the same standards applied to any other identity group.
However, when they trained prosecutors and police to implement these laws, hate crime trainers apparently instructed law enforcement officials to not investigate cases of serial, stranger rape and serial murder as gender bias hate, even though these crimes embody the very essence of selecting victims because of their identity and violating them in ways that specifically demonstrate hostility towards that identity.
I say “apparently” here because, although I tried for years, I could not get one elected official, non-profit director, or Office of Justice Programs representative to speak with me on the record about their training regarding hate crimes and rape. One trainer at the Simon Wiesenthal Center admitted that the question of rape as a hate crime “always [came] up” when they were training police officers and prosecutors but that the trainers didn’t “put it in writing.” She said they addressed rape only verbally, during the “Q and A” period of their programs. Her supervisor quickly called me back to tell me that the trainer did not have the authority to speak with me.
Over the last two decades, police and prosecutors in every state with gender-bias hate crime laws have, with absolute consistency, failed to charge even the most prolific serial rapists and rapist-murderers with gender-bias hate crime. After nearly 20 years, across dozens of states with gender-bias laws, these laws are used almost exclusively for a few highly publicized cases involving transvestite or transgender people, and never for more than one to two of the approximately 10,000 women annually, randomly raped or raped and murdered by strangers. Statistics on male victims of stranger-rape and rape-murder are harder to quantify, but they, too, are virtually excluded from being counted as victims of gender-bias hate crime. For example, in 2017, in the entire country, only one presumably heterosexual male and two presumably heterosexual females were counted as victims of hate-based gender-bias sex crime.
The problem with gender bias is far from the only systematic inconsistency in enforcement of hate crime laws. Georgia legislators owe it to crime victims to confront such evidence of systematic bias in hate crime law enforcement in other states before leaping to codify these biases into Georgia’s laws for mere political gain.
We do not need hate crime laws in Georgia. What we need is equal justice for every victim of every crime.
Tina Trent, Ph.D, writes for various publications and lives in Forsyth County.