Chris Lane murder: Is a racist dimension of the crime being discounted?
The shooting of college student Chris Lane in Oklahoma is stirring a debate over what constitutes a hate crime. Racist tweets, allegedly from social media accounts of a black suspect, prompt some to ask if race was a motive in the murder.
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The FBI training manual for identifying hate crimes instructs law enforcement officials that "the mere fact the offender is biased against the victim's actual or perceived race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, and/or gender identity does not mean that a hate crime was involved. Rather, the offender's criminal act must have been motivated, in whole or in part, by his or her bias."Skip to next paragraph
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Police in the Lane case appear to have made a distinction between hateful motivation and an indiscriminate, random attack, says Indiana University law professor Jeannine Bell, author of “Hate Thy Neighbor,” who has researched how police view hate-crime charges.
“I’ve seen how police see lots of cases in which there’s language that’s used that involve slurs and epithets, and where police are able to discern what is actual motivation from what is language and epithets,” she says.
FBI guidance on this point includes investigating whether the suspect made "bias-related oral comments, written statements, or gestures." Another fact supportive of a finding of bias is whether "a substantial portion of the community where the crime occurred perceived that the incident was motivated by bias," according to the "Hate Crime Data Collection Guidelines and Training Manual."
The perception – amplified by cable talk shows, talk radio, and social media – that police are playing down racial aspects in Lane's killing because the victim was white fits a larger trend in public opinion. According to a study by psychologists Michael Norton and Sam Sommers, whites see race "as a zero-sum game that they are now losing."
The pair talked to 208 blacks and 209 whites to determine the extent to which they felt blacks and whites were discrimination targets in each decade from the 1950s to the 2000s, on a scale of 1 ("not at all") to 10 ("very much"). Both groups largely agreed that the 1950s featured broad discrimination against blacks and little against whites. By the 2000s, however, 11 percent of white respondents gave anti-white bias a maximum 10 rating compared with 2 percent of whites who rated anti-black bias as a 10. Cumulative black scores, however, suggested that blacks have perceived only a modest increase in "reverse racism."
“Whites … now believe that that [black racial] progress is linked to a new inequality – at their expense," writes Mr. Sommers.
"There does seem to be in certain corners of the public, or even media depictions of contemporary society, sort of a rising sentiment, whether it’s the war on Christmas or the war on boys, this idea that traditional forms of discrimination are no longer the ones we’re dealing with. Instead, we’re dealing with the reverse forms of discrimination,” Sommers says in an interview with the Monitor.
The Lane shooting "has been seized upon as symbolic … [of] a slight that they perceive," he adds.
Moreover, a recent Gallup poll finds a "growing gulf" between blacks' views and whites' views of the US justice system. More than two-thirds of blacks in the survey say the justice system is biased against blacks, compared with only 25 percent of whites. "Blacks' attitudes about the justice system have remained virtually constant over the past 20 years, but whites have become less likely to perceive bias," the poll concludes.
FBI hate-crime statistics consistently rank anti-black bias as a more significant source of racially motivated hate crime than anti-white bias. From 1995, when hate-crimes reporting began, through 2011, anti-black bias accounts for about two-thirds of all incidents classified as racially motivated hate crimes. Anti-white bias has hovered in the 20 percent range of reported cases.