Hate crime laws throughout the United States are severely lacking, especially when it comes to hate crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
This results in perpetrators of hate crimes being punished to a considerably lesser degree, despite the harshness of the act and its impact on the victim.
The government needs to make changes to state laws in order to properly sentence culprits of hate crimes. It is weird that this hasn’t already happened, since new legislation like the national legalization of gay marriage has already occurred.
There are currently 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, whose hate crime laws include crimes committed due to a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Only 15 states implemented hate crime laws that protect victims targeted due to sexual orientation, but not gender identity. Another 15 states with hate crime laws that cover neither sexual orientation nor gender identity. Five states do not have hate crime laws set in place for any characteristics whatsoever.
Many of the states lacking hate crime laws have implemented legislation to correct the laws currently in place, but these bills were ultimately unsuccessful.
The laws currently set in place throughout the United States have far-reaching consequences, including an additional distrust of the police by the victims of hate crimes.
A study by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nearly two out of three hate crimes go unreported to the police. It also found that from 2007 to 2011, 24 percent of victims of violent hate crimes did not report to the police because they believed the police could not or would not help.
Not only are many perpetrators of hate crimes being undercharged and under-sentenced, but many are not being sentenced at all. This is due to the current culture throughout parts of the country.According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 90 percent of hate crimes are violent in nature. Due to hate crime laws in many states throughout the country, these violent crimes are classified as assault, despite bias motivating the attacks.
One example of such a circumstance occurred at Penn State University in early October of 2014. John Mateer, a Queens College student, was visiting a friend that attends the university. They both went to a party at the fraternity house of Sigma Nu. During the party, Mateer went through the back exit of the house to smoke a cigarette.
He encountered an argument taking place where homophobic slurs were being thrown back and forth. Mateer commented on the language they were using, saying that he himself was gay and that the slurs they were using are offensive.
Mateer walked off but realized after a short period of time that he was being followed by one of the students that was engaged in the fight on the fraternity lawn.
“The guy, whose name I later found out is Matthew Chandlee, grew angry and told me ‘You’re gay! I hate gays!’ I felt almost as if I were in a movie, because I thought nobody was that open with their hate, but before I could even think another thought I saw his fist flying at me and he hit me as hard as he humanly could in my face. My ear immediately began ringing and my vision blurred out and I was just in complete shock,” said Mateer.
Chandlee was brought up on simple assault, which is a misdemeanor, and harassment. The details of the sentence will be revealed in February, but Penn State has taken action by placing Chandlee on indefinite suspension.
“I found out the next night when I was brought into the police station to pick out my attacker from a lineup that hate crimes in Pennsylvania don’t cover sexual orientation,” said Mateer. “I felt like I was getting punched all over again. Thinking about how his motives are almost completely irrelevant in the eyes of Pennsylvania.”
This is far from the only case of violence against an individual due to sexual orientation. Hate crime laws throughout the country need to be updated.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are common motivators for violent hate crimes, and the law should reflect this so victims of hate crimes can be properly protected under the law.
Additionally, laws should exist so that potential perpetrators of hate crimes know that this type of harassment is not condoned by the government. There are currently not sufficient laws to deter possible culprits of hate crimes from committing such acts.
While, at times, the United States seems to be heading in the right direction, we are still bogged down by outdated thinking and bigotry.
We like to hope that our generation is more tolerant and accepting, but we are still met with stubborn hate. Our society will not be able to universally embrace tolerance unless our governments fully support it. More comprehensive legislation must be passed and enforced.
Jaclyn Weiter, FCRH’18, is a Communication and Media Studies major from Wantagh, New York.