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Even when the act is hateful, it can be tough to pursue a hate crime

Karen Aroesty is the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Karen Aroesty is the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

In the weeks after the presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center collected reports of more than 1,000 hate-related incidents from across the United States. Fifteen of those incidents happened in Missouri. In the St. Louis region, local reports detailed verbal taunts and harassment based on the victim’s perceived race or religion. Many people might conflate hate incidents with hate crimes, but most reports following Nov. 8 could never be prosecuted as a hate crime.

So, what exactly is the difference between a hate incident and a hate crime?

Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, breaks it down:

Hate crimes have a very specific grounding in federal and most state legal codes. 

"At a base level, a hate crime is where the perpetrator intentionally chooses the victim and commits any number of potential crimes against that victim, whether it’s physical assault or something worse, because that person belongs to or is perceived to belong to one of the protected categories, which varies from state to state," Aroesty said. "In Missouri: race, religion, nation of origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation and identity by definition."

Hate crime by it’s nature is more egregious than crimes motivated by bias because the crime doesn’t have a clear goal.

"What we've seen for years is that generally, hate crime violence is four times more serious. If I steal your wallet my motivation is to get your money. If I start beating you because you are a person I believe is inferior to me, when do I get compliance? Probably you are dead or significantly injured."

Whether people are charged with hate crimes may depend on who the prosecutors are, where they live and how strong they think the cases are.

"Look, I've had prosecutors or state's attorneys in very rural parts of Missouri where we have seen specific acts against folks, particularly in the gay community, say, ‘Look, I can prove the assault, I have that. I have the physical capacity to prove the assault. If I add in the hate crime charges on a really conservative group of people who are part of the jury down there and I've got to convince them that they also want to protect somebody who's gay?' I remember a very specific conversation with the state's attorney on a situation exactly like that in the early 2000s. He didn't want to risk it."


Listen to St. Louis Public Radio's full conversation with Karen Aroesty here:

Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn