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.

Chicken Sandwiches, Interracial Marriage, Autism Speaks, and Popularity Contests

It’s lunchtime, so, having some time, I thought it would be good to talk about, well, lunch.  This week, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people lost out in the USA.  Their fellow citizens showed that, given the choice between supporting equal rights and eating a chicken sandwich, the sandwich will win.  It was kind of a modern version of the Two Minutes Hate, just with chicken instead of a telescreen (and, as John Stewart says, in the clip below, finally a type of protest that Americans can manage – eating fast food).

But that’s not what is interesting – or even most depressing – to me.  Both sides of the gay marriage issue have taken sides, with the Human Rights Campaign and others now promoting a Starbucks Appreciation Day (Starbucks has publicly stated their support of same-sex marriage).  Essentially, people seem to have a need to show that more people support a their own view than support the other sides’ view(s).

Autistic people who have campaigned against Autism Speaks know the dangers of this.  I would guess that for every person who has spoken out or taken direct action against Autism Speaks, that there have been 1,000 people who have walked in one of the Autism Speaks “Autism Walks.”  The majority is uninformed and wrong when it comes to Autism Speaks.

This isn’t just an autistic issue, either, where a minority finds itself oppressed by a majority that supports causes counter to their own goals.  People referring to themselves as “Jerry’s Orphans” have spoken out about the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s annual telethon (featuring “Jerry’s Kids” – that is, children with muscular dystrophy that were used by the former telethon host, Jerry Lewis, to invoke feelings of pity and loss towards disabled people with muscular dystrophy).  Yet, the MDA’s telethon continues to get popular support, as does the MDA itself (I cringe every time I see firemen standing in the middle of the street holding out boots for me to donate to the MDA).  Popularity doesn’t make something right.

Nor is it even just a disability issue.  You may know that while interracial marriage became legal for the entire USA in 1967, thanks to a landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia.  What you may not know is that, in 1968, one year after the legalization throughout the nation (it was legal most places other than the south before 1967, which makes this number more shocking), only 20% of the US population support interracial marriage (67% opposed).  Even as late as 1983, most people in the US opposed interracial marriage – 50% – while only 43% supported it.  In fact it wasn’t until 1997 that a majority of the population was willing to indicate they supported interracial marriage, according to Gallop polls (there were polls in 1994 where only 48% supported interracial marriage, and then again in 1997 where, finally, over 50% – 64% actually – supported it).  What is interesting is that the shift occurred fairly quickly, but if eating at certain restaurants was the key to getting people the right to marry, they would have lost for a long time.  Fortunately we have a good court system that was willing to undo some past prejudice, and not decide whether people have rights based on popularity.

Minorities – whether autistic, people with muscular dystrophy, or interracial couples – don’t get rights by popularity.  It’s decidedly unpopular to extend rights to anyone that doesn’t already have them.  It stays unpopular for years, even decades, after the rights are granted.  Eventually things change, but true courage involves standing up for those rights before your friends and family do so.  It’s not about standing in a Starbucks line with a bunch of like-minded folks, or keeping people from standing in a Chick Fil A line with a bunch of like-minded people.  It’s about doing what the people around you are not doing. We should be teaching people to do the right thing, even if others aren’t doing it with them.  It’s never popular to challenge the status quo.

I’m off to salvage what is left of my lunch hour!  And, no, I’m not in the mood for Chicken.