Misconceptions and Mislabeling Hate Crimes with Sophia Hall and Nadia Aziz: ‘Defining hate crimes on college campuses’

Cara McCarthy / THE GATEPOST

Sophia Hall and Nadia Aziz spoke about what defines a hate crime, and the misconceptions surrounding hate crimes April 1 in the McCarthy Center Alumni Room.

Hall works as a supervising attorney for the Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, an organization that teaches people the differences between a hate crime and incident and works with victims of hate crimes in order to help them receive the justice they deserve.

Aziz serves as a co-interim director for the Stop Hate project, which serves as a place for victims of hate crimes to get the proper support they need, and to strengthen inclusiveness in communities to prevent incidents in the first place.

The event opened up with a question from Aziz: “What do we mean when we talk about hate? … We think of racism, sexism, homophobia, Anti-semitism-all kind of awful things.”

After a few answers from the crowd, they put up the legal definition of what can be considered a hate crime:

“A criminal offense against a person or property that is motivated in whole or part by an offender’s biases against an individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.” 

Aziz then went on to talk about hate incidents, and how people frequently confuse the two.

“Hate incidents are a much broader category – you know how people say a square is a rectangle but a rectangle isn’t a square? Same thing here. A hate crime is a hate incident, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a hate incident is a hate crime,” Aziz said.

Aziz added hate crimes are unique in nature as they are “message crimes.” While they can target a single individual, more often than  not, they end up affecting entire communities.

“It’s a traditional offense with an added element,” she said.

“Nearly two-thirds of all hate crimes go unreported to law enforcement – there’s a lot of different reasons for that. One is that they don’t think they’ll be believed,” she said.

“The FBI reported that in 2017, roughly 7,000 to 8,000 hate crimes occurred, but another source of government data that is from the victims’ perspectives shows that an average of 250,000 hate crimes happen every year in the U.S. That just shows the huge discrepancy between sources,” Aziz said. 

She said this skewed data is the result of victims not reporting their crimes to local police, and local police not being required to report their findings to the FBI.

Hall then asked the audience where they think Massachusetts is ranked on the number of reported hate crimes per year. After a couple of mixed “high” and “low” answers  from the audience filled the room, Hall said, “I bet you would be surprised to learn that we are actually one of the top states in the country in terms of highest reported hate crimes.”

“But there’s a silver lining to that news,” she added.

“It’s because we have developed the infrastructure for people to report. There are places in Mississippi, for example, that don’t have the infrastructure to report, so thus, they are reporting zero,” she said.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Hall. The fact that a hate incident becomes a hate crime only when a person is assaulted or property is damaged is a problem, as it allows everything outside of that to be just incidents, she added.

For support and more information about hate crimes, visit lawyersforcivilrights.org and NoHateALawyersCommitee.org.