Current Issues and Developments in Race Hate Crime
This piece will discuss the arguments by Liz Dixon and Larry Ray in their article, along with research and works used to support their commentary. It will firstly look at the successes of the article, before discussing the failings and ways in which it could have been improved. It will then assess the quality of the argument and whether the authors were able to give a rich and thorough overview of the broad area of racial Hate Crimes.
Before looking at the main argument of their article, it is helpful to introduce the authors and gain an understanding of their background.
Dixon is a Senior Probation Officer at the London Probation Trust and has previously written in the Probation Journal about how the Probation Service has developed effective ways of dealing with Racially Motivated Offences. As a former Hate Crime co-ordinator, and trained Restorative Justice facilitator, one would expect this are to be within her comfort zone in the area of race hate crimes. Since writing this article, she has continued to speak publicly about the developments relating to Hate Crime and its perpetrators.
Larry Ray is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, and specialises in social inequality and violence. His empirical research is referred to throughout the article and has subsequently published a book relating to different forms of racial violence within society.
The expertise of both authors complements the research area of racist offending since Dixon’s role is reducing these crimes, whilst Ray conceptualised racist offending during his studies.
Both authors have a shared background in understanding how and why racists crimes are committed and the reader can anticipate a truly engaging discussion of the area.
Initially, the article does not disappoint – rather it gives an engaging description of the term, as something that “runs the gamut from harassment and criminal damage to murder and genocide”. Statements such as “hate crime has rapidly become a powerful term with strong rhetorical force” demonstrates that the authors understand the potency of the term and also recognise that there is a tendency to overuse it and label lesser actions a ‘Hate Crime’.
Factors such as ‘rights-based laws’, expanding populations and the activism of anti-racism and LGBT groups are credited with bringing forward the emergence of Hate Crime.
The strength of the Stephen Lawrence campaign is rightly emphasised, along with its successful achievement in raising awareness and awakening a response to the murder.The case study of Zahid Mubarek is also chosen, and whilst the details of the case are not elaborated upon, the murder is used to show how a failure to implement correct policies was problematic.
Dixon and Ray argue that recent policy changes show a greater commitment to race crime issues and pinpoint the two tasks for criminal justice agencies to be exposing the side effects of these attitudes and helping perpetrators dealing with their prejudice.
The authors however are not naïve in regards to Hate Crime, but do state the challenges facing the implementation of anti-racist policies, such as economics factors and the fact that many anti-racist policies are sometimes seen as anti-white.
The authors summarise two main criticisms of Hate Crime legislation as limiting freedom of speech and the question of how useful it is in improving social integration.
The former is a common criticism of Hate Crime statutes, and the idea that offenders are being punished for their thoughts is one that the authors really get stuck into. They are critical of the law entering into what they call a “psychic” domain and are sceptical as to whether one’s motive can ever be established. It is an interesting, albeit obvious, comparison they made; mens rea is nothing new, although for our authors, punishing hate is verging on mind reading.
On the issue of speech, the authors are cautious to link speech with Hate Crime, since this could infringe on Human Rights. Rather, they focus on the fact that speech can be used to show intention as an insult but not as a motivating factor.
Like many articles written on racial Hate Crime in the UK, this piece is indebted to the work of Ben Bowling, and the authors systematically pay homage to what they describe as a “chronological overview” of this area.
The authors also indirectly link in the work of McDevitt et al when making direct reference to retaliatory offences following the 7/7 bombings. This study found that the underlying motivation for all hate crime to be bigotry but there were also a range of other motivating factors. McDevitt et al placed offenders into one of four categories; excitement, defensive, retaliation and mission. It is this third group of revenge or reaction attacks that was of interest to Dixon and Ray, since they are likely to lead to more attacks and create a cycle of hate crime.
This is because the authors see perpetrators as feeling inadequate but the demonisation of out-groups allows them to gain power. This is thoroughly demonstrated in the study by Ray et al on shame and anger. They studied those convicted of racially aggravated offences and found that offenders came from dysfunctional families and felt a perceived threat from the increasing diverse population, who they blamed for the local economic decline.
The authors also discuss the unique trigger element of Hate Crime and reference is made to Sibbitt’s work on community prejudice. Sibbitt looked at perpetrators of racial harassment in London and found six categories of offenders. She highlighted social factors – propagated by the media – that shaped racist attitudes such as unemployment, lack of facilities and the need to have a scapegoat to blame the strain on.
The article concludes with the belief that UK must be sensitive to Hate Crime. I would agree with this sentiment, since if we were to see Hate Crimes as normal crimes, we would be risking reversing years of progress.
Now we move from the strengths unto the weaknesses. This piece ambitiously sought to underpin the knowledge in the broad area of race Hate Crime, yet this goal was not adequately achieved due to a number of flaws including; a broad title, the omission of key thinkers from it’s catalogue of references, a lack of case law and superficial comparisons to other jurisdictions.
In regards to the title, when you consider that the purpose of this piece is to focus on “how criminal justice agencies work with racial offending and hate focused offending”, the title appears unnecessarily wide. The reader is informed of the two key problems facing these agencies from the beginning – predicting how likely an offender is to re-offend and deciding how strong his/her prejudice is. Therefore the title should have been more focused to reflect this purpose, like ‘Reducing Racial Hate Crimes in the UK’ or ‘How Racial Hate Crime is Targeted by Different Agencies’.
Critique of the UK system is often limited, with the authors the describing former responses to Hate Crime as merely “somewhat muted“. Later when describing the effective interventions used to address difference, the authors highlight literature that Dixon’s organisation provides but glosses over the role of Restorative Justice. This was a squandered chance to demonstrate Dixon’s own knowledge in the area and highlight the successes of Restorative Justice.
The authors emphasised the comparative nature of their article, but refrained from choosing a view regarding whether the broad UK definition is more useful that the narrow definitions seen in the US.
One disappointing aspect of this piece is that the Dixon and Ray failed to give sufficient acknowledgement to the impressive work of Barbara Perry, who is mentioned once when discussing offenders becoming violent with victims who ‘cross the line’ and try to challenge stereotypes. Despite references to community tensions, the fear of the “other” and offenders acting out pre-existing prejudice, the authors choose to omit Perry from the discussion. Perry originally spoke about Hate Crimes being used to perpetuate the marginalisation of minorities and saw racial violence as a tool used to maintain outsider status Terms such as “hierarchies of difference” would have been strengthened by linking with Perry’s theory of “Doing Difference”, in which difference is a social construct embedded within society and used by dominant groups to create unequal power relationships.
The authors also speak of the different types of prejudice, which would have been better explained in relation to James and Potters diagram on prejudice and causation. They created a table in which the degree of offender prejudice is compared against the strength of casual relationship and illustrated the most obvious high prejudice/high causation cell 1 with KKK members. However it is the other complicated cells within this diagram, like high prejudice/low causation cell 2, which illustrate Dixon and Ray’s belief that prejudice is not as clear as would be believed.
The authors also missed an opportunity to theorise techniques that offenders may use to minimise their actions. Sykes and Matza identified techniques of neutralisation that perpetrators use to justify their offending as; denial of injury, denial of victim, appeal to higher loyalties, condemnation of condemners and denial of responsibility. This would have been useful to our authors since they admit that “on the one hand the victims are seen as ‘fair game’, and on the other hand the perpetrators deny the racial intent”. This statement clearly demonstrates the findings of Byers, that there is both a denial of injury and victim, since the harm is underplayed and the victim is dehumanised, as if they were to blame for their victimisation or should be used to these actions.
Another flaw is that there is also an over reliance on case studies but no attempt made to cite a legal case. When the authors explain that many offenders do not intend to be racist, they miss an opportunity to relate this to a judicial decision. One’s mind may automatically go to DPP v Woods, in which the defendant used racist remarks as a sign of frustration after being refused entry to a nightclub. The courts however held that the use of racially insulting remarks are enough to demonstrate hostility. A further link could be made to DPP v McFarlane (2002), where the courts decided that a defendant is guilty once the offence is proved and there is evidence that the defendant used racist language that was hostile and threatening. It is striking that the authors ignore case law, since one of the most obvious ways of highlighting how race hate crime is developing would be by using examples of how the courts interpret these crimes.
Although this article may not have made the most elaborate mark on Hate Crime discourse, it has been referred to by a number of authors to support the view that race hate crime policy, and the response to this crime, changed dramatically as a result of the Stephen Lawrence murder and heightened fears post-9/11.
Palmer and Smith agreed with our authors that a “pure hate crime” does not exist, and the typology of offenders being filled with hate and targeting their victims based on their identity traits was actually a misconception. Maurice Vanstone also used Dixon and Ray’s work to support the idea that the Stephen Lawrence murder was the catalyst that drove the political agenda to consider ways of “countering institutional prejudice and furthering inclusion”.
Hannah Smithson cites this piece in two of her works. Firstly she credits these factors with altering the “policy and operational landscape” of race Hate Crime in the UK. She also builds on the idea that race hate crimes were not properly monitored or recorded before these events, and therefore there was no way of knowing its impact or effect. Unsurprisingly, subsequent features in the Probation Journal have continued to use this work, showing the ideas discussed by the authors do hold weight.
The main themes of Dixon and Ray’s were laid out in the abstract. It explained that the piece would dissect the Hate agenda, look at the initiatives used in various agencies and compare the UK and US experience. The impression given is that comparisons would be drawn to the US system, but in reality, minor comparisons were made to the US, which was disappointing. Allusion was a key feature of this article, with brief reference made to pivotal moments in UK race relations such as race laws, race riots and Government reports.
The authors credits the Stephen Lawrence campaign with uniting many movements and factions but no detail is given regarding who the main voices were across these groups or what were the key signs of solidarity. Vague references are made but the reader is left unclear of the specific anti-racist groups and to recall from memory the infamous Daily Mail headline that publicly accused the alleged Lawrence murderers. It would be interesting to see how the authors would respond to the recent developments in the Lawrence case that resulted in the imprisonment of two of his murderers in 2012.
From the onset, questions relating to Hate Crime are raised and the reader is expecting to have a better understanding by the end of the article. These questions include; how do Criminal Justice agencies work with racial offending? How has knowledge in this area evolved? What was the impact of high profile murders?
However, the problem with this piece is that it asks one thing and leaves the reader asking four other things! There were simply too many missed opportunities in the article; lip service is paid to prominent Hate Crime writers, superficial comparisons are made to the US methods of tackling racial hate crime and our authors forfeit opportune moments to illustrate their knowledge and background at points. Dixon and Ray were able to encapsulate the ambiguity of Hate Crime within their article, but were not able to encompass the area of racial crimes due to a liberal title. The current article offers a good read into the area, but is still too unfocused to be completely engaging. I would suggest a follow up collaboration between our authors. In this they could build upon the knowledge they have developed within this period and target their article solely on the a criminal justice agency within the UK. Current issues or developments – perhaps the authors should pick one.