Hate In America: What Do We Know?

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American Sociological Association

Documents from a press conference

AUGUST 6, 1999

Chicago, IL

James F. Short, Jr., PhD

Valerie Jenness, PhD
Abby Ferber, PhD
Ryken Grattet, PhD

An Overview of the Problem

In recent months a stream of violent incidents has brought attention to the issue of hate crimes. The names of the people and places involved remind us of the worst aspects of human societies: James Byrd, Matthew Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither, Columbine, the Sacramento Synagogue Arsons, Jonesboro, and Benjamin Nathaniel Smith. White supremacist organizations have been on the rise throughout the 1990s. Attracting many angry and frustrated white men, these groups rearticulate our nation's most pressing problems in terms of race.

While some consider the 1990s to be the decade of hate, or at least of hate crime, hate crime is perhaps better characterized as an age-old problem with a new sense of urgency. During the 1980s and 1990s, multiple social movements devoted considerable material and symbolic resources to the problem. Government task forces analyzed the issue. Legislative campaigns have sprung up at every level of government. New sentencing rules and categories of criminal behavior have been established in law. Prosecutors and law enforcement have developed training policies and specialized enforcement units. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in with its rejection of one statutory formula and acceptance of another. Scholarly commentary and social science research on the topic has exploded.

These extraordinary developments attest to the growing concern with and public visibility of violence motivated by bigotry, hatred, or bias. They reflect the increasing acceptance of the idea that criminal conduct is "different" when it involves an act of discrimination. "Hate crime" has clearly secured a place in the American public sphere. In the process, criminal conduct that was once undistinguished from ordinary crime has been parsed out, redefined, and condemned more harshly than before. Read More...

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