Hate crimes happen when someone is targeted because of an important part of their identity. A victim may be targeted because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. Hate crimes seem senseless. But one thing is clear: people who commit hate crimes purposefully choose their victims from a place of bias and prejudice.
Hate crimes are different from other crimes because they terrorize entire communities. When we see on the news that a member of our group has been attacked for who they are, we worry we are at risk. Hate crimes are especially frightening because they send a message to an entire group that they’re under threat.
In 2017, the FBI released a new report revealing that hate crimes are spiking across the country and here in Utah.
Utah ostensibly adopted a hate crimes law in 1992. But that law is essentially unenforceable. In the 25 years since it passed, not a single offender has been convicted of a hate crime.
That’s why Equality Utah is supporting a revised “Victim Targeting Amendments” bill by Senator Daniel Thatcher that will protect all Utahns regardless of race, religion, nation of origin, ability, sexual orientation and gender identity. We’re advocating for a stronger statute that will provide basic safety all Utahns deserve.
What’s Wrong With Utah’s Hate Crimes Law?
Advocates point out that in Utah, it’s hard for prosecutors to convict people who’ve committed hate crimes. Just like any other law, Utah’s current hate crimes law does prosecute crimes like assault or theft. But the law doesn’t acknowledge when these crimes are motivated by bias or hate.
In fact, Utah’s hate crimes law doesn’t mention the words “bias” or “prejudice” at all. It also discourages victims from stepping forward and reporting when they’ve been attacked.
Some critics argue that hate crimes legislation creates special protections for certain groups, but not others. In reality, the proposed legislation that we support protects all Utahns.
No matter your skin color, who you love, or where you worship—all of us have a race, an ethnicity, a sexual orientation and a gender identity. Many of us also belong to communities of faith. Passing tougher laws against the criminals who target their victims based on these qualities makes all of us safer.
How Do Hate Crimes Affect Society?
Hate crimes make vulnerable groups feel unsafe. Because they’re motivated by hate, they’re often more violent than other crimes too.
Mass shootings are one example of hate crimes. Too often, shooters are motivated by hatred against a racial group or sexual orientation. The mass shooting at Pulse Orlando, a gay nightclub, might be the most visible example of a horrific hate crime against the LGBTQ community.
Hate crimes—and the fear they create among vulnerable groups—are a fact of life for too many LGBTQ people.
Who Supports Victim Targeting Amendments?
A diverse coalition of criminal justice organizations, faith and advocacy groups have come together to endorse Victim Targeting Amendments. In 2017, seven municipalities including West Jordan, South Salt Lake, Beaver County, Midvale, Moab, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County passed resolutions calling on the Utah Legislature to pass the new legislation.
These groups recognize that tougher laws will protect Utahns from targeted and heinous violence.
Hate Crimes & Intersections with Race, Gender, Income, & Sexual Orientation
Like most issues that touch the LGBTQ community, intersections between race, gender, and socio-economic status make different people feel more—or less—safe.
We know that LGBTQ people of color—for example—face more risk for violence and hate crimes because of racism. Trans women of color face racism, sexism, and transphobia all at once. Low-income trans people are also targeted with violence more often than other groups.
US laws haven’t caught up. According to the Movement Advancement Project, only 17 states have laws that recognize when hate crimes are committed because of the victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
Hate Crimes Statistics & Data
Unfortunately, hate crimes are escalating in Utah. The FBI tracks data on hate crimes in its yearly Hate Crimes Report. But many states inaccurately report their hate crimes data—or don’t report at all.
For example, some states report zero hate crimes or just a few each year. But researchers know this isn’t right. How? Because neighboring states with roughly the same population report many more hate crimes. Even worse, some police agencies just don’t collect or reveal the data they have.
It’s also important to remember that hate crimes are usually underreported—or not reported at all. So, the number of hate crimes happening in our neighborhoods could be far higher than we realize.
Different states give more (or less) support to hate crimes victims. But Utah’s law can’t meaningfully support victims who are targeted because of who they are. Our state’s law doesn’t even recognize when hate crimes are committed because of bias or prejudice.
Looking ahead, we’re hopeful that our state will develop laws that protect everyone. All Utahns deserve justice and safety.
- Victim Targeting Amendments legislation supporters
- FBI: Hate crime statistics
- HRC: Guide to State-Level Advocacy Following Enactment of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act
- Hate Crime Laws Map, Movement Advancement Project
- Anti-Defamation League’s 50 States Against Hate