Hate Crimes, Prejudice, & Racism: Is There an End to It

These days, the term ‘hate crime’ has been making frequent appearances, yet understanding of what exactly constitutes the phrase is scarce. Taylor’s Daeshnaa explains more below. 

By definition, a hate crime is any criminal offence perceived to be motivated by hostility, prejudice, and bias against a person or a particular social group based on their ethnicity, nationality, disability, physical appearance, religion, and/or gender identity. Crimes of this nature typically include physical assault, homicide, verbal harassment, offensive graffiti, hate mail, and damage to personal or public property. According to the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, current data indicates that nearly 78% of hate crimes occur based on prejudice towards an identified ethnic and racial group while the remaining were centred on gender identity. Though its frequency and statistics vary across nations, hate crimes evidently persist all over the world, and the question that remains is, why do they happen?

The principle driving factors of hate crime are fear and ignorance towards people who are thought to be different from one’s own self. These feelings trigger people to act unjustly on preconceived and unfounded views of others. Recently, one of the most horrifying acts of hate crime against people of Asian heritage unfolded, when eight people, including six women of Asian descent were killed in an attack targeting spas and massage parlours in Atlanta. This surge in display of hate against the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community has only intensified its course following the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was never inexistent.

Truth be told, racism is deep-rooted into the world we live in today, regardless if we’re consciously aware of and impacted by it or not. Nevertheless, humanity is constantly in the process of learning and making amends when it comes to prevailing over this extreme form of derogatory stereotyping. However, the prejudices one holds play an integral part in the issue of racism as our subconscious prejudices are capable of affecting our actions and behaviour, even if we’re unaware of them. Hence, these prejudices have the ability to unknowingly seep into our day-to-day attitudes, behaviours, and work life, giving rise to dire consequences. An appropriate example of the impact unaddressed prejudices can have in reality today is the existence and occurrence of police brutality.

Police brutality is known to be a universal predicament. Last year on 25 May, heads turned worldwide when news broke on the gruesome murder of George Floyd by a police officer, Derek Chauvin. While in Malaysia, the three custodial deaths of Surendran, Ganapathy, and Sivabalan joins the extensive list of unjust deaths caused by unchecked brutality and misconduct by the police force. The excessive and unwarranted use of force by law enforcement is primarily due to personal prejudices, racial discrimination, and biased views that ultimately lead to racial profiling, where people assume guilt based on ethnicity and physical appearance. In retrospect, if a civilian were to inflict the same level of force on another individual in the same situation, it would clearly be considered a violation of the law and hence, prosecuted as an incident of hate crime. This begs the question, how else does hate crime affect us and our community?

Here are some of the effects hate crime is capable of inflicting:

  • Diminished sense of self along with psychological trauma and depression

  • Generalised terror and feelings of vulnerability among victimised group and other minority groups who are likely targets

  • Community wide unrest leading to prompt retaliatory action and potentially dangerous escalation of events

As a matter of fact, the world was given a terrifying glimpse of these effects with the recent outburst of conflict between Israel and Palestine. The dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians has been ceaseless for almost 75 years but the latest friction that quickly escalated to the launching of airstrikes began with hate crimes. In the raiding of the Aqsa Mosque by Israeli police, the cables to loudspeakers broadcasting prayers were deliberately severed. This incident was followed soon by a second assault, when armed Israeli officers attacked defenceless Palestinians at the mosque with tear gas and stun grenades. Ultimately, the eviction of six families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah was what sparked the turn of events that violates the international humanitarian laws that tantamounted to a war crime. The aftermath of these acts of terrorism has now resulted in over 250 Palestinian deaths and has left nearly 72,000 citizens displaced.

Nonetheless, this isn’t the first time the Palestinians have encountered such undeserved bigotry. In most aspects of life, Israel has continuously imposed institutionalised discrimination against Palestinians living under its rule. In fact, one of the most prominent pieces of legal discrimination is the fact that descendants of countless Palestinians who fled their homes during the 1948 war, currently have no legal rights to reclaim their families’ land. Israeli forces have also been known to employ excessively rough tactics during law enforcement activities against Palestinians and deny medical help for those who were injured afterward. At this juncture, it goes without saying that the day-to-day reality these citizens face is burdened with unjustifiable anguish and despair caused by hate crimes, but it shouldn't have to be.

Here are some measures we can take to overcome the incidence of hate crime:

  • Acknowledge, condemn, and speak up about hate crimes whenever and wherever they occur

  • Investigate hate crimes thoroughly and prosecute offenders to the full extent of law

  • Enact laws with enhanced penalties that expressly address hate crime

  • Monitor underreporting by victims and under recording by police to ensure accurate data is obtained for informed policy making decisions

In tackling the issue of police brutality, nobody is above the law — especially those who have a duty to uphold it. Here are some ideas on what can be done to effectively combat the problem:

  • Mandating the use of body-worn cameras to increase the accountability of the police and improve data-collection process for prosecution

  • Improve hiring practices by introducing personality assessments, de-escalation training, and implicit bias training which bring awareness to subconscious biases of police officers

  • Constantly monitoring the employment history, workplace performance, and mental health of law enforcement officials

  • Improve the prosecution of guilty officers by ensuring it’s fair and that they receive the appropriate penalties, without bias, and qualified immunity due to their position. 

Malaysians can advocate for the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) bill to be passed. It’s aimed to form an agency that will essentially ‘police the police’. This committee will receive, investigate, and punish police officers in accordance with its mandate, making the police significantly more accountable in their actions.

Ultimately, achieving sustainable progress in overcoming the incidence of hate crime needs to begin with change within ourselves. Addressing and resolving our own prejudices, biases, and stereotypical views empowers us with the value of acceptance. When we are more accepting of ourselves and those around us, we become conscious of the fact that everyone in this world — no matter how different they may be from one’s own self — is significant and worthy of kindness and respect. 

On that account, I truly hope that we all find it within ourselves to appreciate the immense beauty and strength that is found in diversity. To not let our differences divide us, but rather, act as a force that brings us together.

Daeshnaa is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at Taylor's University. She also enjoys writing, baking and spending time with family.

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