What are hate crimes? An informative look at what they are and why they are on the rise

Hate crimes are on the rise against communities of color. In 2019, they reached their highest level in more than a decade. Here’s why.

Video Transcript

- Hate crimes are on the rise in the US. In 2019, they reached their highest level in more than a decade. Although hate crimes have been reported as far back as 1982, the US has seen an uptick in hate crimes against Asian-Americans, specifically during the coronavirus pandemic.

A hate crime is defined as a criminal offense against a person or property that's motivated by bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity. But hate itself is not a crime.

The first federal hate crime statute was signed in 1968 by President Lyndon B Johnson. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was an expansion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The statute made it a crime to use or threaten to use force on any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin in any federally protected activity, such as attending public schools, jury service, travel, and housing.

But it wasn't until 1990 that legislation allowed the government to collect data on crimes that showed evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding the federal definition of hate crimes to include crimes committed against those based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability.

State laws and agencies are now tasked with enforcing the Shepard-Byrd Act. But states differ significantly in their definitions and enforcement of hate crimes. Only 35 states include gender bias in their definition. And three states don't even have hate crime laws.