Why are Hate Crimes Increasing?

From the UK, hate crimes in 2011 increased 30% over crimes in 2010.  The linked article gives some speculation.  I’ll give some of my own, as it missed something important.

First, I’m not from the UK – I’ve visited, so I can tell you about Heathrow, but I am no expert on UK society!  Second, the government has only been apparently gathering this data since 2009 – so it’s hard to extrapolate it too much.  So weigh what I say carefully.

First, I do agree that the attacks on disabled people as freeloaders and “fakers,” who are out to cheat the system and live off other people’s money, is certainly a likely contributor.  Not in the direct, “Oh, I’m going to beat the crap out of a cheat” sense.  Rather, I believe it’s a contributor in that it lowers the standing of disabled people in the eyes of people.  It builds a subtle prejudice in people’s eyes, who might say, “Not every disabled person is cheating the system,” but somehow that some are.  Ironically, many of the people who are victims of the hate crimes end up being the people who are obviously members of the class of disabled people!  So, in other words, people that are seen by others as not faking it are facing the prejudice directed in general to disabled people.

That’s why I say it’s not’s a direct link – it’s not attacks against perceived cheats so much as attacks against a group of “others,” a group of people “not like us.”  The further from us, the more “other” someone is, the more difficult it is to have empathy for them, to relate to them, to understand them.  And “this group of people is spending your tax dollars” certainly will other people.

But there’s other elements, too.  Disabled people, even in the UK, are also gaining rights and integration in society, even at the same time that society is attacking their ability to survive through benefit “reform”.  It’s not an all-or-nothing thing – progress can be made with laws such as the Equality Act of 2010, which extended significant protections to disabled people – particularly things like accessibility to services and goods.  Of course this occurred in a time when the UK economy is not good, and this will certainly cost businesses some money (although typically not a significant amount).  But it will magnify feelings of otherness, because now, in addition to disabled people being cheats, the government is making other people pay “even more” for services – all the while “normal” people are struggling.  To some, this can feel like an attack on them – the government is taking from them and giving to cheats.  That furthers the otherness (as I mentioned above, I don’t think the hate crimes are primarily directed at suspected cheats, just members of a class with increased otherness).

There’s a dynamic when people gain rights – crimes against the people gaining rights increase as rights are granted, at least initially.  People feel threatened by the change, don’t like what is going on, and this forms the basis of how they see people.  In the USA, for instance, in California, hate crimes against gays decreased from 2002 until 2007, when they rose again slightly, and then jumped greatly in 2008.  Even in 2007, hate crimes against gays were approximately 18% of the hate crimes committed (a rate that held study for a few years).  But in 2008, it jumped to over 24% of all hate crimes.

In 2008, the courts ruled that gay marriage must be allowed by the state.  It was also the year of a successful push by opponents against these rights, resulting in a initiative that banned gay marriage.  So there was both an increase and decrease in people’s rights.

What is interesting is 2009 – after gays lost the right to marry: hate crimes against gays decreased to 21% of all hate crimes.  The perceived threat of gays having rights had dropped by then – the haters won, with Prop 8 in 2008.  Equally interesting is that hate crimes against gays again increased in 2010 – the same year that Judge Walker ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional (and, thus, ruled that California’s ban against same sex marriage was unconstitutional), a major win for gay rights in California, hate crimes against gays again increased to 25.1% (even higher than in 2008).  (sadly, this was appealed, first to an appeals court, then to the Supreme Court, so gays in California can’t yet marry, as the courts have issued stays on Judge Walker’s ruling pending the appeals)

I believe a big part of the trend in California is directly related to a minority, an “other”, gaining rights.  This increased visibility, increased discussion, and increased bigotry among some.  It’s kind of ironic that gaining rights puts people at risk, but it does seem to do exactly that.

In the meantime, we can’t stop working towards gaining rights.  One thing that is clear about public opinion is that the law can have an effect on public opinion.  While hate crimes may increase and misguided individuals may feel threatened or increase their views of others being even more “other”, overall law does change people’s opinions.  There’s a lot of reasons for this, but one of the biggest is that it gives legitimacy to people who agree with the law.  Now, rather than worrying about appearing controversial, they can simply point to the law.  They may have had the same feelings before the law passed, but now they themselves aren’t taking a stand – the courts or law already did that.  And as more people take these stands, it becomes a less controversial stand – it influences others who didn’t feel that way (yay peer pressure!).

I suspect the situation in UK is complex.  I suspect my analysis doesn’t do it justice.  But it may not just be indication of people losing, it may also be a misguided attempt at retaliation for gains made.

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