Prevention is the Best Way to Address Hate Crimes, Kappelhoff says

April 8, 2009

Education and advocacy are two of the most important ways to combat hate crimes, an official from the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said at the Law School on Wednesday.

Mark Kappelhoff

Mark Kappelhoff, chief of the Criminal Section of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, discussed the current state of federal and state hate crimes prosecutions at a talk sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race and Law.

"You may think, 'Why do we have to prosecute hate crimes in the United States? Is it a problem?' Well, the answer is yes," Kappelhoff said. "In 2007, there were over 7,600 hate crimes in the United States. That turns out to be about one instance per hour for the entire year. And that number has been very consistent for the last decade."

Kappelhoff said the actual number of hate crimes may be far larger than what is reported because some victims fail to report their crimes, and sometimes hate crimes are mislabeled as "vandalism" or "a prank" by law enforcement authorities. Examples of underreporting can be found in Mississippi, which reported no hate crimes to the FBI in 2007, and Alabama, which reported only six, Kappelhoff said.

He also said his office sees spikes in hate crimes based on what's going on in the news. There was an explosion of crimes against Muslim Americans after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and a small spike of crimes targeted toward African-Americans during the recent presidential election.

Kappelhoff discussed the most difficult element of prosecuting those who commit hate crimes — meeting all three qualifications required to classify crime as hate crime. In addition to showing that there was force or threat of force, prosecutors must also show that the force was motivated by bias and an intent to interfere with a federally protected activity. Those activities, he said, include the right to housing, education, employment, public accommodation, public facility, serving as a juror or voting.

He discussed several cases his office has prosecuted, including United States v. Eye and Sandstrom, for which two men were found guilty of shooting and killing an African-American man walking on the street in Kansas City.

Kappelhoff's office was successful in the case, he said, because they were able to prove that the man was attacked because of his race and because he was using a public street, which is a federally protected activity because it is a public accommodation.

In another case, United States v. Walker, members of the National Alliance, a white separatist political organization, were convicted of assaulting a Mexican-American bartender at his place of employment in Salt Lake City. The prosecution was successful, Kappelhoff said, because prosecutors were able to prove that the bartender was assaulted because of his race and in an effort to interfere with his federally protected right to employment.

Kappelhoff also discussed a proposed hate crime statute called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. If passed, Kappelhoff said it will make two key improvements to hate crime law by expanding the groups protected to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identification and disability. It also eliminates the requirement that prosecutors prove that a hate crime was motivated by the victim's participation in federally protected activities.

He also discussed prevention, which he said should be a major element of addressing hate crime, along with prosecution and providing victim services.

"Unfortunately by the time a case comes to me or my office, there's already a victim out there — someone who has been killed or beaten or threatened," he said. "Prosecution isn't the answer. We need other ways to address hate. Prevention is the answer. Just talking about race is a serious step toward prevention."

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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