What is a Hate Crime?

Federal definition:
A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation." Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

California definition:
Section 13023 of the Penal Code states that ". . . any criminal acts or attempted criminal acts to cause physical injury, emotional suffering, or property damage where there is a reasonable cause to believe that the crime was motivated, in whole or in part, by the victim's race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability . . ." shall be reported to the Department of Justice.

The following activities are examples of crimes that qualify as hate crimes if motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived group identity:
  • The hate crime must involve a specific target, such as a person or individual residence, house of worship, religious, ethnic, or gender-based organization, or business.
  • Graffiti must be racial, ethnic, gender-based, religious, or homophobic in nature, using swastikas or other symbols and slogans of the KKK, Nazi party, or other hate groups, or involving the use of epithets.
  • Bigotry must be the central motive for the attack, rather than economics, revenge, etc., as in other kinds of crime.
  • Any assault against a person, in the absence of other apparent motivation, when initiated with racial, ethnic, religious, gendered or homophobic epithets, will be considered to be a hate crime.
  • Vandalism to a house of worship, or to an ethnic, religious, or gay or lesbian organization will be considered a hate crime in the absence of evidence of other motives.
  • Obscene or threatening phone calls, when containing racial, ethnic, religious, gender-based, or homophobic slurs, are considered hate crimes when it is determined that hate is the primary motivation for the call.

For more information regarding hate crimes, go to:

What is a Hate- or Bias-Motivated Incident?

A "hate- or bias-motivated act" is any incident in which an action taken by a person or group is perceived to be malicious (hate) or discriminatory (bias) toward another person or group based on such characteristics as race, color, socioeconomic class, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity or any situation in which inter-group tensions exist based on such group characteristics. Hate and bias acts may be violations of criminal law, such as "hate crimes," or violations of civil law, such as unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, education or public accommodations.  All hate crimes are considered hate and bias incidents, but not all bias incidents are considered hate crimes.

What is Hate Speech?

Hate speech is a controversial term for speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a group of people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability; hate speech includes written as well as oral communication. An important difference to recognize is that hate crime doesn’t always involve hate speech and hate speech in and of itself is not always a hate crime.  

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