The Conundrums of Hate Crime Prevention

Sinnar, Shirin | April 3, 2023

The recent surge in hate crimes alongside persistent concerns over policing and prisons has catalyzed new interest in hate crime prevention outside the criminal legal system. While policymakers, civil rights groups, and people in targeted communities internally disagree on the value of hate crime laws and law enforcement responses to hate crimes, they often converge in advocating measures that could prevent hate crimes from occurring in the first place. Those measures potentially include educational initiatives, conflict resolution programs, political reforms, social services, or other proactive efforts aimed at the root causes of hate crimes. Focusing on the public conversation around anti-Asian hate crimes, this Essay argues that very different conceptions of the hate crime problem lie beneath the support for hate crime prevention. Broadly speaking, proposals for hate crime prevention fall into three categories: 1) prejudice reduction measures; 2) political and structural reforms; and 3) socioeconomic investments in communities. Prejudice reduction measures, such as educational programs to reduce stereotyping, stem from a view of hate crimes as an extreme manifestation of bias. Advocacy for political and structural reforms corresponds to a conception of hate crimes as the product of intergroup struggles over power and resources often influenced by the state. Calls for socioeconomic investments link hate crimes to the conditions that produce interpersonal harm more generally, such as economic distress or public health failures. This Essay maps out these different conceptions of hate crime prevention and relates them to theoretical perspectives and empirical evidence from social psychology, sociology, criminology, and other fields. Drawing on this review, it argues that the project of hate crime prevention faces several empirical and normative conundrums. In addition to disagreements over conceptualizing hate crimes, these puzzles include the relationship between attitudes and behavior, the potential tension between hate crime prevention and other socially desirable policy goals, and the difficulty of maintaining support for long-term, structural change.