A hate crime is a criminal offense committed against persons, property or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by an offender's bias against an individual's or group's race, religion, ethnic/national origin or sexual orientation.
Currently, no federal legislation exists allowing for the specific prosecution of hate crimes. Individual states have created legislation regarding hate crimes.
North Dakota does not have any specific hate crime legislation. Those states that have hate crime statutes generally create sentence enhancements for hate crimes, rather than a new category of crime.
The federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 encouraged states to report hate crime data to the FBI, and as of 2000, all but two states were reporting hate crime statistics. Fargo reports any local hate crimes to the state and federal government.
Why do we need to pay special attention to hate crimes?
Hate crimes affect more than the specific victims of the crime. A hate crime often affects an entire group or community, making people fearful and concerned for their safety. Others in the community who share the victim's characteristics may feel victimized and vulnerable. Hate crimes are often especially brutal, leaving the victims traumatized and their families feeling frustrated and powerless. Hate crimes can escalate and prompt retaliatory action and community-wide unrest.
What are the key indicators that a hate crime may have been committed?
The main difference between a hate crime and other crimes is that a perpetrator of a hate crime is motivated by bias. To evaluate a perpetrator's motives, law enforcement must consider several bias indicators:
Perceptions of the victim(s) and witnesses about the crime
- The perpetrator's comments, gestures or written statements that reflect bias, including graffiti or other symbols
- Any differences between perpetrator and victim, whether actual or perceived by the perpetrator
- Similar incidents in the same location or neighborhood to determine whether a pattern exists
Whether the victim was engaged in activities promoting his/her group or community—for example, by clothing or conduct (NAACP rally, sidewalk chalking for Gay Pride Week at NDSU).
- Whether the incident coincided with a holiday or date of particular significance
- Involvement of organized hate groups or their members (KKK, National Alliance, etc.)
- Absence of any other motive such as economic gain.
- The presence of any of these factors does not confirm that the incident was a hate offense, but it may indicate the need for further investigation into motive.
What are some special problems we face in dealing with local hate crimes?
Fargo has a growing refugee population that can easily become a likely target for hate crimes. These victims face a difficult process as many may not have a good command of the English language. Most refugees do not understand the American legal process and may have cultural barriers about involving the police.
Fargo is ahead of many communities in this respect, and the police department has a cultural liaison officer. Officer Cristie Jacobsen provides presentations for refugees to help them understand the legal process in America. She also helps officers understand cultural differences that may affect a criminal investigation.
For more information on hate crimes, visit the following Web sites: