Emily Hockett: Questions (and a few thoughts) on hate crimes law

Queen Elizabeth mini desk statue

As I finish up the first month of my research, I am amazed at how much my topic has evolved. In my project proposal, I talked about researching the intersection of national security and racial profiling, which I observed in federal counterterrorism policy. After speaking with a number of Gallatin faculty members, reading books, articles, and academic research on my initial topic, I realized that my thesis—that national security created a convenient exemption that gives law enforcement license to racially profile—has already been quite clearly established. I realized there is relative consensus (at least among scholars at the intersection of cultural studies and counterterrorism) on the subject. Federal counterterrorism policy does give law enforcement license to racially profile, and racial profiling is a form of racism.

In retrospect, this revelation is quite obvious. But reading existing literature on the topic helped me to think about ways to reshape my research without abandoning its foundations. I realized that, in broad terms, I was interested in the collision of civil and political society. Identifying this foundational principle of my initial proposal made realize that much of what I had read about counterterrorism policy applied to hate crimes policy. In legal terms, both terrorism and hate crime law criminalize already criminal acts. Both carry political incentives for legislators. Champions of hate crimes legislation are lauded as liberal political victories. Legislation that purports to identify and punish terrorists carries political cache across the aisle. Opposing either would be politically poisonous. All of this is to say that both kinds of law carry political incentives.

In making this connection, I realized that the practical consequences of both types of laws are rarely considered. I had planned to consider the real world implications of what I observed to be racist loopholes in federal counterterrorism policies and legislation, but as I mentioned above, this point has been made—albeit not reflected in the wider popular conversation around terrorism. Thus, I decided to use the same framework to think about hate crimes. I am in the process of crafting a literature review around this topic that will inform my research. The goals of this review are threefold: first, to examine how and why hate crimes law is created—the political purpose it serves, the constituencies that favor it, the legal standard it uses, its varieties from state-to-state. Second, to consider how these laws are enforced—by law enforcement and by prosecutors—and how enforcement varies depending on the law’s provisions. Third, to focus on how civil society treats hate crimes law—how hate crimes data is collected, talked about, and the role of civil liberties. I will end by exploring the discrepancies between each, considering potential for reforms, particularly at the local law enforcement level.

I have been shocked by some of what I have learned in putting together this review. For example: state-level hate crimes statutes exist in almost all 50 states. This means that there are 45 different definitions of a hate crime. Most focus on demonstrated animus by the perpetrator toward a group identity that the victim holds. Some states require that the animus be proven for a hate crime charge to be added, while others—like New York State’s—only require that the perpetrator target the victim based on a certain identity. At first, this difference did not seem all that significant. But then I learned about a group of prosecutors in the Queens Elderly Fraud Unit who were claiming that because their clients (all elderly targets of fraud schemes) were being targeting because of their age (an identity protected by the statute) they were victims of hate crimes. This example fascinated me, and illustrated the discrepancy between the legislative purpose of hate crimes statutes and their use in practice.

Anyway, this is somewhat of a departure from what I initially planned to focus on, but I am excited that my research process led me to a topic I am truly perplexed and fascinated by. Would love to hear thoughts/comments/suggestions from anyone who’s reading this!

Always good to have handy!
Queen Elizabeth on my desk – her hand waves when the top of her purse is exposed to natural light!
The spread

2 thoughts on “Emily Hockett: Questions (and a few thoughts) on hate crimes law

  1. This is so interesting! (I like the photos btw) I did an interview once with a local police officer in my hometown in Ohio and he said that it’s “very difficult to prove a hate crime,” and in the majority of crimes that seemed like hate crimes, the police were unable to prove and prosecute it as such. I think it’s going to be a really interesting topic and best of luck! Are you planning to interview local law enforcement and narrow it down to New York or New York City, or are you going for a broad based approach?

    1. Thanks Grace! And wow that interview sounds fascinating. Would love to hear more. I am starting with a broad approach so that I can get a sense of how state hate crimes statutes and police standard operating procedure inform how they are prosecuted. I have found a few law review articles that say if police intake forms include a checkbox where an officer can indicate a “potential bias-motivated incident,” the chance that a prosecutor will pursue a hate crimes charge goes up. That being said, I am planning on focusing on the NYPD as kind of a case study since they have a Hate Crimes Task Force that has received a lot of praise for its approach to hate crimes investigations.

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