Laws that add additional punishments for crimes that are motivated by hate are necessary because they give equal protection to all citizens, not just “special groups,” an attorney for the Anti-Defamation League said Tuesday night.
Hate-crime laws punish acts of violence motivated by bias based on race, religion, sexual orientation or other characteristics, said ADL legal counsel David Barkey. And because everyone has a race, a gender or a sexual identification, everyone is protected, so everyone has a stake in making sure such incidents are reported and prosecuted, Barkey said in an educational session on hate-crime laws at the Jewish Community Center sponsored by his group and the Forum for Equality.
Although hate crimes against “majority” groups are not the norm, they do occur: 19 percent of reported race-based hate crimes were against white people, 9 percent of religious hate crimes were against Catholics and Protestants and 1 percent of sexual-orientation-based hate crimes were against heterosexuals, Barkey said during a portion of his presentation on dispelling myths about hate crimes. Further, one of the foundational U.S. Supreme Court cases that upheld hate-crime laws, Wisconsin vs. Mitchell (1993), involved a race-based attack on a white person, Barkey said.
“It just proves the point that everybody can be a victim,” Barkey said.
Another myth about hate-crime laws, Barkey said, is that they attempt to punish “thought crime” or require mind-reading. To the contrary, hate-crime prosecutions require evidence of the hate-based motivation for the crime, Barkey said, such as epithets or slurs being shouted during an attack. (In the Wisconsin case, the Supreme Court ruled that the hate-crime law did not violate the First Amendment because the defendant’s speech was used to incite violence, not to express an opinion.)
Tuesday’s primer on how hate-crime laws work was organized following a series of anti-homosexual attacks in the downtown area. One case involved a group of teens that were allegedly yelling homophobic slurs and firing paintballs at victims in the French Quarter; another involved the vandalism of the Warehouse District home of former Forum For Equality leader John Hill. In the most severe case, organizers said, a couple was walking through the French Quarter when they were attacked from behind and beaten by men yelling that homosexuals should be killed.
Barkey noted that in 2011, the most recent year for which FBI statistics are available, 6,222 hate crimes were reported across the country. In states like Kentucky, Oregon and South Carolina, more than 150 hate crimes were investigated, but Louisiana only reported seven, and New Orleans had none.
“I think there’s an issue with reporting,” Barkey said.
Public outrage is most effective in deterring hate crimes motivated by thrill-seekers, Barkey said, a class of offender motivated less by bigotry and more by the desire to start a fight. Education is another key way of fighting hate, because bigotry is something children learn, but community members can intervene to stop it with teaching.
“People learn hatred, and it builds in them,” Barkey said.
Barkey urged community groups to forge strong relationships with law-enforcement outside the context of individual hate crimes to make sure that training for them is a priority. Likewise, officials with both the New Orleans Police Department and the FBI urged community members to contact them whenever they believe a hate crime has occurred.
“If you don’t report it, we don’t know,” said Special Agent Drew Watts of the FBI’s civil-rights division.
To read our live coverage of the discussion, see below.