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Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics (Studies in Crime and Public Policy) [Hardcover]

by James B. Jacobs, Kimberly Potter
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 7, 1998 0195114485 978-0195114485
In the early 1980s, a new category of crime appeared in the criminal law lexicon. In response to concerted advocacy-group lobbying, Congress and many state legislatures passed a wave of "hate crime" laws requiring the collection of statistics on, and enhancing the punishment for, crimes motivated by certain prejudices. This book places the evolution of the hate crime concept in socio-legal perspective. James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter adopt a skeptical if not critical stance, maintaining that legal definitions of hate crime are riddled with ambiguity and subjectivity. No matter how hate crime is defined, and despite an apparent media consensus to the contrary, the authors find no evidence to support the claim that the United States is experiencing a hate crime epidemic--instead, they cast doubt on whether the number of hate crimes is even increasing. The authors further assert that, while the federal effort to establish a reliable hate crime accounting system has failed, data collected for this purpose have led to widespread misinterpretation of the state of intergroup relations in this country.

The book contends that hate crime as a socio-legal category represents the elaboration of an identity politics now manifesting itself in many areas of the law. But the attempt to apply the anti-discrimination paradigm to criminal law generates problems and anomalies. For one thing, members of minority groups are frequently hate crime perpetrators. Moreover, the underlying conduct prohibited by hate crime law is already subject to criminal punishment. Jacobs and Potter question whether hate crimes are worse or more serious than similar crimes attributable to other anti-social motivations. They also argue that the effort to single out hate crime for greater punishment is, in effect, an effort to punish some offenders more seriously simply because of their beliefs, opinions, or values, thus implicating the First Amendment.

Advancing a provocative argument in clear and persuasive terms, Jacobs and Potter show how the recriminalization of hate crime has little (if any) value with respect to law enforcement or criminal justice. Indeed, enforcement of such laws may exacerbate intergroup tensions rather than eradicate prejudice.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Americans were told that "hate crime" was on the rise throughout the nation. Numerous advocacy groups lobbied for--and achieved--the passage of laws specifically engineered to document the rise in hate crime and dole out extra punishment for perpetrators who chose their victims on the basis of race, ethnic group, religion, or sexual orientation. But were these legislative efforts necessary?

James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter suggest not. They argue that the definitions of "hate crime" are often too vague to be meaningful. They cite the case of a black man who robbed white people simply because he believed they had more money than blacks and who did not abuse whites with racial invective as he committed his crimes, as an example. Jacobs and Potter point out that "whether or not the authors of hate crime legislation meant to cover [such] offenders, these are the individuals who dominate the statistics." They then analyze the statistical data and find no evidence supporting the belief that hate-instigated violence is on the rise; they also find that the majority of reported hate crimes are low-level offenses such as vandalism and "intimidation." Brutal assaults and murders, while they may provide grist for media sensationalists, are rare.

Jacobs and Potter also argue convincingly that the development of hate-crime legislation arises from the identity politics movements which have gained strength since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Essentially, according to their line of reasoning, claims of the existence of a hate-crime epidemic and laws punishing hate crimes serve two purposes. One, they allow minorities to express outrage at the way they are being treated by society. Two, they allow nonminorities to act as if they understand minorities' pain and reaffirm the uncontroversial belief that prejudice and bigotry are wrong. But crime, the authors suggest, is not simply "a subcategory of the intergroup struggles between races, ethnic groups, religious groups, genders, and people of different sexual orientations." Hate-crime laws may even, they warn, exacerbate perceived differences rather than create harmony.

Hate--or, more accurate, bigotry--is wrong. Crime is also wrong. But Jacobs and Potter make a convincing argument against considering crime tinged with bigotry worse than unadulterated crime. "The enforcement of generic criminal law," they conclude, "is adequate to vindicate the interests of 'hate crime' victims as it is of other crime victims."

Review


"At last, a book that thinks clearly and carefully about laws that have been too close to motherhood and apple pie to get the scrutiny they need. Hate Crimes shines with the authors' passion for justice, and its meticulously argued verdict ought to make even the staunchest supporters of hate-crimes laws think twice. This will--or should--be a touchstone for future debate."--Jonathan Rauch, author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought


"Activists, pundits, and legislators who champion 'hate crime' laws will be hard-put to answer this stunning, caring book. Jacobs and Potter show how such laws may advance their sponsors' political status and moral self-importance yet diminish tolerance and justice. This definitive analysis will change the debate--and, let us hope, a sorry miscarriage of the law."--Jim Sleeper, author of Liberal Racism and The Closest of Strangers


"This book brings careful scrutiny and sociological wisdom to a legal innovation that desperately needs it. The debate over hate crimes will never be the same."--Peter Schuck, Yale Law School


"Jacobs and Potter rigorously and provocatively suggest that criminalizing prejudice, motivated by symbolic politics and moral outrage, may not be sensible criminal justice policy and, indeed, may worsen problems criminalization seeks to remedy. Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics is challenging and rewarding reading."--Stephen J. Morse, University of Pennsylvania Law School and University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine


"This slim, well-written volume does the legal heavy lifting of many books five times its size...an essential guide to the origin, politics, and enforcement of hate crime laws."--The New York Times Book Review



Product Details

  • Series: Studies in Crime and Public Policy
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (May 7, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195114485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195114485
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,373,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The writing is wooden; but the arguments are excellent. December 12, 1998
Format:Hardcover
This is the book to read if, like a lot of us, you were outraged by the killing of the gay student in Wyoming and want to do something about it. "Hate Crimes: Criminal Law & Identity Politics" makes clear that what we SHOULDN'T do is adopt more legislation singling out hate crimes for special punishment. The authors are sensitive to the plight of victims. But they point out, in subdued, legalistic language, the morass of problems that can face us: Which groups should be included? Why is one victim's suffering worthy of more punishment than another's? Isn't there a danger that hate-crime investigations will end up being an inquiry into the criminal's thoughts?
The only problem with this book is the writing. It's not particularly bad. But it isn't compelling. The organization of each chapter is professorial (one of the authors is a law professor). Segments are pedantically labled, as if they were lecture notes and not a book about a widening legal and societal issue that is intrinsically interesting. The authors end chapters with conclusions that reiterate what we have just read. The writing feels as if the authors dictated it, then lightly edited it.
But the writing weaknesses are only a small impediment. A serious reader, worried about how to deal with crimes committed out of bigotry, will find this book thought-provoking and, at the end, convincing.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sober well reasoned November 19, 1999
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a clearly written and well researched discussion of the notion of "Hate Crime". It clearly shows that the tendency of some states in the United States to pass hate crime legislation is a poor response to a complex phenomena. The authors show that in fact hate crime has been declining and the passing of laws probably lead society to become more divisive.
The statistical material suggests in fact that there has been a decline in prejudice over time and that current criminal laws handle issues of social conflict in an adequate way. The setting up of hate crime units and the passing of laws has achieved little and used scarce resources.
Hate crimes it would appear are an issue that is pushed by parties of the left in the United States. (Perhaps more accurately parties of the not so right). This attack however is not some piece of political rhetoric based on a political position but a clear inditment of poorly worked out social policy.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable to both the student of law and the layman. March 13, 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book methodically deconstructs the ideas behind the notion of "hate crime" and proceeds to smash them one by one.
The only area not distinctly attended to is the near monolothic double-standard applied to enforcing hate crimes mostly against white male heterosexual offenders.
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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This short book covered virtually every possible angle that many liberals use to justify new laws seemingly every time a crime is perpetrated against someone who falls into on of the "so- called" minority or protected groups. These two authors should be commended on the fine job of laying out the facts. The task is noble but I think today most of Americans think that all our problems can be solved by the Government by passing another law. But as the authors point out in the book the facts just don't substantiate a "wave" of hate crimes to need any additional laws. In fact laws are already on the books that cover every conceivable crime. With the addition of new laws will be the incentive for many minorities to claim racism when attacked by someone white.
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