User:Abram samuelson/Rash of U.S. hate crimes brings strong convictions

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cellphone call to the Sanford Police Department by George Zimmerman before the shooting of Trayvon Martin
Audio: City of Sanford, Florida.
Federal Bureau of Investigation 2010 reported hate crime victims by category.
Image: Abram samuelson.

A number of recent high profile convictions for hate crimes in the United States is redefining the crime and the consequences of committing one.

Statistics indicate that a hate crime occurs in the US every hour, according to Sarah Warbelow, who is the legislative director for the Indiana Human Rights Commission. The term "hate crime" did not appear until the 1980s when newly emerging hate groups committed a number of bias-related crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The US government classifies hate crimes as a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. It wasn't until 2009 that US criminal civil rights law was amended to include violence against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community known as The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.,Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The US law has to strike a balance between freedom of speech and protecting people from a crime that is seen as affecting a group or groups of people.

Hate is not a crime.

A recent example of headline hitting hate crimes is Dharun Ravi. Ravi is a former Rutgers University student who was convicted on March 16, 2012, on all 15 charges he had faced for spying on his roommate having sex with another man and recording it via webcam. Although Ravi was not charged with his roommate Tyler Clementi's death, he was convicted of the charge of bias intimidation with the intent to intimidate based on sexual orientation. This verdict is poised to impact the current definition the federal government has placed on hate crimes.

Ravi's case had no federal charges, as there was no direct physical violence as required by federal government laws, so the incident could not be classified as a hate crime by federal government standards.

On February 26, in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old african-american Trayvon Martin while on neighborhood watch. This case has placed hate crimes in the forefront of the public as the facts continue to unfold. Although no charges have been filed in this case, Florida along with 22 other states has a Stand-your-ground law in place to protect individuals who resort to violence in the name of self-defense.

Laws of this type blur the lines for a hate crime conviction.

Warbelow said, "There are lots of actions that states and people take that contribute to the mind set of bias individuals. These actions reinforce hatred."


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.

Category:United States Category:North America