Jussie Smollett was charged and arrested for allegedly orchestrating his own hate crime, but nobody should take that to mean there are no hate crimes at all; on the contrary, now more than ever we must acknowledge that hate crimes are real and on the rise across America.
Actor and singer Jussie Smollett was recently arrested and charged for allegedly reporting a false felony. The Empire actor claimed to have been the victim of a hate crime involving both his race and sexual orientation, as the attackers reportedly shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Now, it appears Smollett orchestrated those attacks himself.
As the internet is flooded with pictures of the actor leaving the courthouse after making bail, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment announced his Empire character would be cut from the show for the final two episodes of the season.
If proven guilty, Smollett was out of line and deserves punishment. The bigger issue, however, is that people seem to be taking this particular case as an excuse to downplay victims’ testimony when it comes to hate crimes across a nation ripped apart by social and political tensions—and that’s unacceptable. It is dangerous to downplay the instances and effects of hate crimes in a society apparently prone to tacit or explicit racism, homophobia, transphobia, and many other such prejudices. Now is not the time to find excuses to look the other way.
So, it’s a problem when conservative outlets and individuals take Smollett’s case to justify their long-held prejudice that hate crimes are not even a thing. Consider the National Review’s recent piece titled “Let’s Chill about Hate Crimes,” where author Kyle Smith rhetorically asks “where is this epidemic of gay-bashing?,” meaning to say there is none. “A Twitter friend writes that all purely self-reported hate crimes should be presumed hoaxes,” he goes on to say.
Or consider the case of infamous conservative and, until recently, hardcore Trump supporter, Anne Coulter, who tweets:
These are not isolated claims. Many conservatives and Republicans really seem to believe this one false hate crime can be generalized to mean there’s no such thing as real hate crimes against minorities in America. And that’s outright false.
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The true status of hate crimes
Hate crimes are demonstrably a real phenomenon, no matter how much many conservatives would want to sweep it under the rug. Every year, the FBI publishes a national analysis on hate crimes, based on the number of police reports received during that particular time frame. In 2017 alone, there were 7,100 hate crimes reported: almost 20 attacks per day—that’s nearly one attack every single hour. This rate marks a considerable increase of 17% over 2016.
And that’s just considering the actual reported instances, but unreported cases are way more numerous and would drive that figure up dramatically. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) conducted a survey between 2005 and 2015 that concluded there are over 250,000 hate crimes every single year. Even if there are wrong by half that number, we still have a serious problem on our hands.
“But Smollett's case, and many others, prove most of those reports are actually fake, so I simply don’t believe there are as many hate crimes as you claim,” some conservatives might respond at this point. Thing is, according to police and FBI data, out of those 7,100 cases reported in 2017, only 23 were found to be false—that’s a mere 0.3% in total. In other words, only 3 cases out of 1,000 are a hoax. The other 997 should be taken to be genuine.
But our conservative interlocutor might still object. “Those numbers are inflated, because nowadays everything can be considered a hate crime!” But in fact, that’s not how the FBI and the BJS measures it at all. Going out on the street and yelling a slur wouldn’t be counted a hate crime at all by police standards: you first have to actually commit a crime, like assaulting, robbing, or murdering. And even that’s not enough. The crime also has to have been motivated by hate against a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. When the BJS calculates its figures, it takes those factors into consideration.
In conclusion, hate crimes are a real, tangible threat to the well-being of thousands upon thousands of Americans, no matter how you want to spin it. So no, even if we find those odd 23 hoaxes, among which Smollett’s case allegedly lies, we are still not allowed to say hate crimes are not a thing in America whatsoever. No more than we’re allowed to claim that because Trump lies hundreds of times per day, then no white male should be believed ever, for instance. Surely, we are all better than that.
(Cover photo: @jussiesmollett)
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