A wave of hate attacks and threats across the country in recent months has prompted at least six states to consider anti-hate legislation aimed at beefing up penalties and expanding definitions of what constitutes bias-motivated crimes, reports the New York Times. Many advocates point to the caustic presidential election as a culprit for the rash of hate unfolding since November, including threatening calls and notes, physical assaults and confrontations, and even deadly shootings. The legal definition of hate crimes varies from state to state, with the same acts bringing vastly different punishments depending on where they occur. Five states do not have any anti-hate statutes: Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Wyoming and Indiana.
A patchwork of state and federal laws, along with underreporting, means it is unclear how often hate crimes occur — a portrait advocates say is needed to help shape public policy and heighten awareness. The F.B.I.’s latest report, released in November, showed a 6.7 percent rise in reported hate crimes in 2015. But reporting is optional for police agencies, and nearly nine out of 10 reported that no hate crimes happened in their jurisdiction in 2015. Anecdotal evidence suggests hates crimes are climbing again this year. “What you are seeing is this widespread feeling of fear and disenfranchisement,” said Brian Levin, a California criminal justice professor who studies hate. “Social, political and demographic changes are becoming so rapid and unpredictable that people are reverting back to a kind of tribalism and acting out with hate crimes or acts of uncivilized bigotry.”