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Op-Ed

Midlands Voices: Impact of Hate Crimes Far-Reaching

Deborah Gilg, Alan Potash and Shelley Kiel

This article originally appeared in The Omaha World Herald on November 5, 2013

Gilg is the U.S. Attorney for Nebraska. Potash is Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League’s Plains States Region. Kiel, a former Nebraska state senator, represents Citizens for Equal Protection


Criminal activity motivated by bias is different from other criminal conduct. Hate crimes are message crimes.

These crimes occur when the perpetrator targets his or her victim because of the victim’s actual or perceived status — that is, the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability is the reason for the crime. In the vast majority of these crimes, absent the victim’s personal characteristic, no crime would occur at all.

Hate violence is intentional. Perpetrators specifically target an individual or individuals because of their personal, immutable characteristics. These are, therefore, very personal crimes, with very special emotional and psychological impact on the victim — and the victim’s community.

Hate crimes physically wound and may effectively intimidate other members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling terrorized, isolated, vulnerable and unprotected by the law. By making the victim’s community fearful, angry and suspicious of other groups, these incidents can damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities.

Whenever a bias-motivated crime is committed, the victim’s entire community is left feeling victimized, vulnerable, fearful, isolated and unprotected. Such crimes also can lead to reprisals and a dangerous spiral of escalating inter-group tension and violence. Thus, the impact of the crime is far greater than the already terrible impact on the individual.

We should have no delusions about hate crime laws. Bigotry, racism, homophobia and anti- Semitism cannot be legislated out of existence. The law is a blunt instrument; it is much better to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.

But while we cannot outlaw hate, laws shape attitudes. And attitudes influence behavior. When these crimes do occur, we must send an unmistakable message that they matter, that our society takes them very seriously. Hate violence merits priority attention, and hate crime laws are an essential, constitutional way to help ensure they receive it.

The U.S. attorney for Nebraska and the Anti-Defamation League, along with dozens of community organizations, have therefore established the U.S. Attorney’s Task Force on Hate Crimes. Its mission is to promote and encourage hate crime reporting and ensure effective community response when those crimes occur.

The task force will facilitate law enforcement and community hate crime education and training; provide strategies and instructions on how to report and respond to hate crimes; and, when possible, provide support to the targeted individual or community.

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"We should have no delusions about hate crime laws. Bigotry, racism, homophobia and anti- Semitism cannot be legislated out of existence. The law is a blunt instrument; it is much better to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place."

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