Despite being a relatively new phenomenon, hate crime historically served as the “final solution”. It was enforced in the Second World War to “ethnic cleanse” Jews and was enacted in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In this paper, I will first define crime, and how hate crime falls within its category. Secondly, I will implement sociological theories, such as Strain Theory, Doing Difference theory, and Self-Control to analyze the topic. By exploring the material between strain, difference and self-control enable a more comprehensive and constructive vision of hate crime. I will also reference a case study from Canada in order to call upon the field of sociology to engage on the key issues of hate crime.
Crime is defined as acts prohibited by law and punishable by sanctions. No act is legally considered a crime unless it is prohibited by law. Therefore, crime is defined as a violation of the criminal law enforced by the state (Spencer & Mohr, 2006a). In sociology, it’s defined as “deviant behaviour which violates the normative conduct of how humans ought to behave”.
Offenders have the opportunity to inflict violence and incite fear upon intended targeted groups — directly or indirectly. Therefore it is suggested to be more severe in comparison to non-hate crimes. Researchers had raised concerns on how hate crimes should be defined. In order to define it, we must ask, “how do we define prejudice in the criminal context, and secondly, what prejudices deserve criminal attention?” (Jacobs and Potter, 1998). Hate is omnipresent throughout the world, but we must establish what is legal and what is punishable by law. Section two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of expression to all Canadians, however, these freedoms contain limitations. Publicly expressed opinions must be reasonable and within the public interest. Therefore prejudices that’s deemed damaging to the social cohesiveness of society — racism, homophobia, and anti-religious views are deemed unacceptable.
The number of visible minority groups is expected to increase by 2036. Despite, Canada’s reputation as a multicultural and diverse country, victimization surveys and police reported that numbers of hate crimes had surged. According to Statistics Canada, 2018 reported a momentary decrease in hate crime rates in comparison to 2017, however, the figures disclosed that Ontario and Quebec’s numbers continued to increase every year.
As one of the leading provinces for hate crime, Quebec is regarded as unsafe for members of different backgrounds and LGBT. The Quebec shooting was noted as the worst hate crime to occur in Canadian history. In late January 2017, an armed shooter released fire and murdered six men in the mosque. Arguments were raised whether his actions stemmed from hatred or deep-seated racism, however, his lawyer argued his offence was invoked due to his mental illness and his desire of wanting to suicide. Therefore, was his actions caused by racism towards Muslims or his lack of self-control?
Individuals who haven’t and will not commit hate crimes have wondered what influences such people to commit such heinous actions. Although it remains relatively limited, empirical studies have proceeded to uncover the background traits of perpetrators (Byers et al. 1999) and their primary motivation to commit hate crimes. Using 169 hate crime case reports from the Boston Police Department, McDevitt et al. (2002) developed a typology that divided hate offenders into the following categories: “thrill”, “defensive”, “retaliatory”, and “mission”.
Despite methodological limitations to their study, it still remains the most comprehensive study that allows institutions to classify individuals and personality traits who are prone to commit hate crimes. They suggested that offenders who acted upon the thrill of offending were impulsive people, however, it’s unclear within hate crime literature why offenders seek out thrill in the first place. McDevitt et al. (2002:308) reported interviews with police investigators that thrill motivated hate crimes is “triggered by an immature desire to display power and experience a rush at the expense of someone else. However, this still does not explain why some young men wish to experience such a rush while other similarly immature young men do not.
In addition, “retaliators” are citizens who act in defence to protect their geographical space and their socio-economic security from a perceived threat to their territory. Minority groups are seen as “invaders” – who should be denied the right of extracting any resources from the land of their ancestors. Events such as 9/11 caused perpetrators to seek vengeance and secure their land from “ingroups”. The most extremist forms are “mission offenders” who purposely hunt down and attack victims. These individuals lack self-control and this will be further discussed in this paper.
Due to inequalities in income, education, and other capacities, many citizens are unable to achieve the goals set within capitalist societies. As a result, individuals who desire material possessions suffer a strain (Merton, 1968). Agnew (1992) expanded on the theory and suggested three types of strains that “caused inclination towards crime”. He argued that “others may prevent individuals from achieving their positively valued goals. Secondly, those who suffer from a strain may wish to remove or threaten to remove positively valued stimuli that individuals possess, and lastly, they may present or threaten to present individuals with negative valued stimulus — verbal insults or physical assaults” (Agnew et al, 2002:44). Therefore, if someone realises that their expected goals are limited by someone else, they may react in irritation, and be persuaded to adopt illegitimate means to attain their goals.
Both Merton’s and Agnew’s conception of strain uncovered negative sentiments committed against minority groups. Due to socio-economic insecurity in the perpetrator’s life, they are blinded by the belief minority groups, specifically, the Asian community receive preferential treatment. Feeling victimised, they blame foreigners for their instability and use ethnic groups as scapegoats.
Barbara Perry (2001) argued that strain theory was insufficient since it couldn’t explain why the most atrocious hate crimes were committed by economic and political giants. Although it is factual that many hate offenders will be socio-economically disadvantaged, others will come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds (Sibbitt 1997). “Hate offenders may be employers, state agency workers, and even leaders of political parties”.
Perry (2001) argued that hate crime is better understood as an extreme form of discrimination. He states that within modern society, power hierarchies are constituted by dominance over “difference”. The difference has been used to construct social hierarchies relevant to gender, race, sexuality, and class. Ironically, the notion of “difference” results from people belonging to groups with members of the same and similar identity characteristics as them. People become bonded to their cultural and ethnic identity through a common interest – entraining why hegemonic forms exist. Those who fall outside society’s construction of identity are seen as “different” (Perry 2001). Those who are deemed different are resisted because they are feared.
Doing difference encompasses many types of hate crime (Perry). However, it too failed to explain why racist and anti-immigrant motivated incidents are committed by socio-economic strain (Gadd et al. 2005; Ray and Smith 2002). Since both theories are absent of essential elements, it is better to explain determinants of a hate crime when these theories are synthesised. Hottfredson and Hirschi (1990) argued that low-self control is the underlying cause of crime. If the opportunity is present for those who lack self-control, these individuals will act on impulse and commit to the act. However, someone with a tolerant level would not engage in criminal activities. It is important to note that, the formation of self-control is fostered within environmental factors — family and friends. Therefore, views of prejudice, racism, and hatred can be nurtured and normalized through parents and media.
Both Strain and Doing Difference theory proved socio-structural and socio-economic factors incline perpetrators to commit hate crimes, however, it fails to explain why some individuals who suffer from the same circumstances do not commit offences. Self-control does give a relatively good portrait of hate-crime perpetrators — young men lacking self-control, lack of education, or employment. However, research has not proven why some particular areas have more hate crime rates compared to others. In addition, hate crime remains enormously underreported. This means that the motives and background traits of all hate offenders cannot be held accountable, since there is no random sampling that can be done on perpetrators. Calling upon the field of sociology, I believe that these three theories developed great advancements for hate crime, however, the suggested theories do not explain “all types of prejudice motivated behaviours”, and perhaps they may build upon it. Furthermore, victimization is currently reported through the means of police reports. It is essential to understand that rates may be manipulated by these power elites, and cases may not be considered due to their own prejudice towards minority groups as well. There needs to be a better method. Actions must be taken in order to stop the predicament from how vastly it’s increasing.