Expert Commentary

Contemporary hate crimes, law enforcement and the legacy of racial violence

2009 paper published in the American Sociological Association on links between historical lynching and contemporary hate crimes.

In 2010, the FBI recorded 3,135 racially motivated criminal incidents in the United States, more than the combined number of hate crimes related to religion (1,322) and sexual orientation (1,277).

A 2009 study published in American Sociological Review, “Contemporary Hate Crimes, Law Enforcement and the Legacy of Racial Violence,” investigates the likelihood that a U.S. county’s past record of lynchings is associated with lax hate-crime reporting and enforcement today.  The researchers, from the State University of New York-Albany and the University of Iowa, focus on counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Carolinas and Tennessee with records of lynching from 1882 to 1930. They then looked at the compliance of the counties’ sheriffs with the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA) and local police hate crime reports between 1992 and 2003. Additional data included a county’s current racial composition and number of white-on-black homicides.

Key study findings include:

  • Hate crimes are reported more frequently by law enforcement agencies located in counties with higher overall populations, more police officers on duty, more young residents, and when 40% or less of the general population is black.
  • The authors find that hate-crime reporting rates “decrease by about 4% for each percentage increase in the black population,” particularly as a county’s population exceeds 40%.
  • Because “policing agencies in counties with a history of racial antagonism encounter offenses motivated by racial animus with some frequency,” they may only report a fraction of hate crimes that occur in their jurisdictions, despite technically being in compliance with federal hate crime reporting rules.
  • Overall, a “history of lynching in combination with a relatively large racial minority is associated with lesser compliance with, and enforcement of, hate crime legislation.”

The researchers note that their data does not capture the motivations of perpetrators of hate crimes. “Deeply ingrained traditions ‘die hard,’ and we propose that traces of the cultural sentiment that permitted lynching linger into the present and are manifest today via lax enforcement of laws that deal with hate crimes.”

Tags: African-American, civil rights, crime, law, race, ethnicity and community

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