On hate crimes and laws, go beyond the statistics

Published 4:00 am Tuesday, March 19, 2019

My state of Georgia is one of the only states that doesn’t have a hate crimes law. Should the state join the rest of the country in developing such a statute? Should states with such laws toughen them?

Normally, when there’s a problem, I like to take the analytical approach, and dive into the statistics to study the evidence. But this is a case where we need to go beyond the numbers when deciding an issue that may be more based on morality than science.

So why is Georgia one of only a few without a hate crimes law? In fact, the Peach State used to have one, but the courts struck it down as being too vague. While other states across the country sought to craft their own bills, a response to a series of horrible torture-killings from Wyoming to Texas where human beings were targeted by virtue of being someone different, Georgia stalled.

More than a year ago, my students and I took on the project, at the suggestion of State Senator Matt Brass, a Republican whose district stretches from my small college town to the outskirts of Atlanta. There are plenty of Democrats who go all out on this issue, but some Republicans have also stepped up to introduce, and vote for reform. The Hate Crimes Bill (HB 426) passed the Georgia House 96-64 and is headed to the Georgia Senate. As GOP House member Chuck Efstration of Dacula said, District Attorneys (of both parties) have been pressing for this law. If the Senate also passes it, Governor Brian Kemp could make some good history, and erase some bad history, with the stroke of a pen. Three GOP House members and three Democrat House members co-sponsored the bill.

There are always challenges too, with counting crimes and comparing them to laws. If you don’t have a hate crimes law, you don’t have a “hate crime.” States that protect more groups of people may report more hate crimes, possibly giving the false impression that the law isn’t working.

Even with these obstacles, there’s still evidence that such laws work. A year ago, I reported the following findings our students generated. “Dividing the number of hate groups in each state by that state’s population in the 2010 census gives us 3.05479E-06 hate groups per capita in states with a hate crimes law, and 5.34659E-06 hate groups per capita in states without a hate crimes law. A difference of means test shows that the averages are significantly different, meaning that hate groups are more likely on average to reside in a state without a hate crimes law.”

There’s a risk in making this only about numbers. “A single death is a tragedy,” said brutal Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. “A million deaths is a statistic.” He would know. If the only thing we did was reduce these tragedies to numbers, we would lose the religious, ethical and moral rationale for targeting these hate crime perpetrators. These are crimes against all humanity.

But there’s always the politician, and segment of the community, who won’t budge. Just treat a “hate crime” like any other crime, they say. These targets need no “special” law or protection. It’s assumed that it’s only about protecting “liberal” groups, not realizing that organizations such as the Nation of Islam are also classified as hate groups.

Critics also don’t realize how hate crimes are different from other crimes, the same way terrorism is different from traditional crimes. The goals of the perpetrators of hate crimes committed by these domestic terrorists are twofold. They are designed to intimidate part of the population. But they are also about encouraging that targeted group to retaliate against another group. Dylann Roof’s plan wasn’t only to kill blacks at a traditional African-American Church in Charleston, South Carolina, another of the five states without a hate crimes law. It was about encouraging blacks to slaughter whites, to create a race war.

The goal of these hate crimes perpetrators is to put you, not just the minority, at risk. Let’s take a stand, instead of putting our heads in the sand