The FBI recently released the 2008 Hate Crimes Statistics report, summarizing hate crime data from over 13,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. The Attorney General is required to compile and report on this data yearly. Although the majority of hate crimes are based on race, it includes reporting on crimes “motivated by disability bias,” which made up 1 percent of the reported incidents.
Of the total 9,168 hate crime offenses in the report, 85 were on the basis of disability: 28 against a person with a physical disability and 57 against a person with a mental disability. The most common offenses were “Simple assault” and “Intimidation,” with a number of “Vandalism” incidents also. The vast majority of incidents took place in the victim’s residence or home. This mirrors the overall data – the majority of all hate crimes regardless of basis were assaults and intimidation taking place in or near the victim’s residence or home.
What is most clear from the report is that the majority of crimes committed against people with disabilities are not considered or categorized as hate crimes on the basis of disability. The US Department of Justice released a 2007 report on crime against people with disabilities finding that in one year, approximately 716,000 nonfatal violent crimes and 2.3 million property crimes were committed against people with disabilities. Even considering that only one in five PWD crime victims “believed that they became a victims because of their disability,” these numbers are an order of magnitude larger that then total crimes against PWD listed in the hate crime statistics.
Whether crimes against people with disabilities should be considered hate crimes is a difficult and complicated question. One on hand, the DOJ report demonstrates that the rate of nonfatal violent crimes against PWD was 1.5 higher than the rate for TABs, with the rate of crimes against women with disabilities almost twice the rate for TAB women. It is hard to imagine that disparities this significant are unrelated to disability status.
At the same time, I am concerned about giving more power to the criminal justice system. I read a compelling piece at The Bilerico Project recently which, while focus on trans issues, seems relevant to this discussion:
No one can deny that particular groups are in fact treated with discrimination and even violence. But rather than ask how about how to combat such discrimination and violence, we’ve taken the easy route out and decided to hand over the solution to a prison industrial complex that already benefits massively from the incarceration of mostly poor people and mostly people of color. It’s also worth considering the class dynamics of hate crimes legislation, given that the system of law and order is already skewed against those without the resources to combat unfair and overly punitive punishment and incarceration.
What do you think – should crimes against PWDs? be punished as hate crimes? Is that an effective way to address and prevent continued crimes against PWDs?