The Justice Department clarifies that “hate” doesn’t mean anger or dislike — but rather bias against people with specific characteristics like race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability.
The “crime” part is often violent, like an assault or murder. Property damage, threats to commit the crime, or even conspiring to commit the crime also qualify.
Forty-nine states and territories have hate crime laws — but they vary.
Data collection is a big divider among states with hate crime laws.
Without state data collection, not only does national data on hate crimes remain incomplete, but vulnerable communities are less likely to receive support.
“There are wide disparities in the protections provided by the various state hate crimes laws, resulting in unequal protection from similar violent crimes in different jurisdictions and the frustration of efforts to collect and maintain accurate national data regarding these attacks,” the Brennan Center for Justice states on its website.
Different states use different definitions
Other discrepancies exist, too.
Jurisdictions can define hate crimes by different bias motivations.
While the US Department of Justice and other organizations consider it a hate crime law, Brennan Center research suggests that lawmakers and law enforcement within the state do not consider or apply it as such.
“Lawmakers and law enforcement within North Dakota do not believe they have a hate crimes law,” according to the Brennan Center, “and that no one has ever been charged of a hate crime under 12.1-14-04.”
Some states don’t have any laws whatsoever
Now, three states — Wyoming, Arkansas and South Carolina — remain without hate crime laws.
American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands also do not have hate crimes laws, according to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department says on its website that “even if a state or territory does not have a hate crimes law, hate crimes can still be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The right labeling matters
But there are qualities that officials look for to distinguish them.
Motive is the biggest quality in question. If it can be proven that bias factored into the motive to commit the crime, it’s likely to be deemed a hate crime.
But what about terrorism, which can involve both bias and violence?
- It took place in the United States.
- It was dangerous to human life
- It was intended to intimidate civilians or affect government policy by “mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”
Using the right language matters, legally speaking.
To label something a hate crime is, in many states, to add weight to sentencing.
Label or not, victims and their families always suffer from these tragic, violent acts.
And depending on where they live, they may suffer more than they have to.
CNN’s Angela Barajas, Dianne Gallagher and Erica Henry contributed to this report.