Two must-read posts: Vox ex Machina and XicanoPwr.
Vox details a handful of recent hate crimes, and points out that these are not individual acts; they are part of a larger and long-standing trend of violence against people who differ from the standard straight white Christian able-bodied man. She writes,
Given the history of hate crimes in the United States, the history that we, as a nation, are only now beginning to address with the arrests of people like James Ford Seale, no, this crime is not special or unique. If we cannot talk about our history, honestly and with an eye on preventing it from repeating itself, then it’s going to do just that.
It’s not a pretty history. It’s a history of lynchings, from Native Americans to blacks to Chinese immigrants. It’s a history of genocidal wars, slavery, forced sterilization, imprisonment in asylums, and discriminatory laws. It’s a history of unspeakable crimes committed against people of color, immigrants, and social “undesirables,” against women, against people of other faiths.
And because we won’t face it head on, every few years, the cycle rears its head.
There’s an urge to talk about hate crimes as individual acts — some crazy racist in some ass-backwards white trash town decided to attack a person of color. Some homophobe in the fly-over zone decided to kill a gay person. That’s it. A crime like any other.
But that’s not it. Hate crimes are unique because, as Vox points out, they’re part of a larger history of targeting traditionally disempowered groups. They’re also different in purpose than most other violent crimes: The purpose of a hate crime is not only to injure or kill an individual; the purpose of a hate crime is to terrorize an entire community of people who share an immutable characteristic. That’s what makes hate crimes different from “regular” crimes. That’s why the argument that “every crime is a hate crime” doesn’t fly. Many crimes involve hate. But hate crimes specifically lash out at a collective group by injuring one of that group’s members.
XicanoPwr points out that hate crimes also have a hand in maintaining traditional power structures:
The truth is, hate crimes function to maintain the status quo; they protect the people in charge, the men and women who are responsible for making important decisions at the highest levels of society. Blame tends to move away from the top, minimizing the possibility that profound changes could ever occur.
When your daily life is tinged with fear, it’s awfully hard to make substantive change. Consider the pervasive fear and threat of violence and sexual assault that women live with every day: It impacts our ability to freely move through society, to travel, to challenge male authority. Turning rape and intimate partner violence into individual, isolated crimes obscures their broader impact.
Further, as XicanoPwr says, isolating hate crimes removes responsibility from those in power — those who benefit from prejudice and hatred. Individualizing crimes that are by their nature collective removes culpability from all of us who help to maintain a system where entire classes of people are less valued and less protected than others.
Continuing to view hate crimes as one-time events perpetuated by people crazed by prejudice (you know, people who aren’t like you or I or anyone we know) against some unlucky individual does not do justice to their true nature. The rash of crimes detailed by Vox and XicanoPwr are not unfortunate incidents between two parties. They are part of an ongoing and wide-reaching epidemic. And they harm many, many more people than those who are named in the police report.