Should a victim or perpetrator's race, sex, gender identity or socio-economic status be relevant in judging a crime?
- Intersectionality, or “intersectionality theory,” is “the theory that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual.”
- America at its foundation, along with many other Western countries, adhere to the concept of the Rule of Law, where the “mechanism, process, institution, practice, or norm that supports the equality of all citizens before the law, secures a nonarbitrary form of government, and more generally prevents the arbitrary use of power.” The Rule of Law is to promote equality under the law and prevent partiality when applying justice to perpetrators of the law.
- Justice.gov defines a hate crime as 'A crime motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.'
- 2018 US DOJ data (Table 14) records 182,230 violent acts were committed against Asian people that year; 563,940 against Blacks, 734,410 against Hispanics, and 3,581,360 against Whites. 62.1% of attacks against Whites were committed by Whites, 70.3% were Blacks against Blacks, 45.4% were Hispanics against Hispanics, but Asians were the only group where 27.5% of attacks were committed by outside ethnic groups.
Very often, when the story of a crime makes headlines, both the victim and perpetrator's social identifiers are revealed, usually pertaining to personal details such as race, sex/gender/sexuality, or socioeconomic status. While such may be relevant in some situations, at the heart of ANY case, it should be of primary concern that the victim or victims had to endure what they did and that a convicted perpetrator performed an unlawful act. For example, when someone is murdered, the most important and devastating grievance is that human life was lost, regardless of the accused's background or identity markers.
Yet when the media insists on noting either party being of a minority group or protected class, it unnecessarily increases societal divisiveness, which can then make one perceive a story from an emotional perspective rather than a factual one. This is highly relevant considering the impact that identifying words can have on the public's perception of an event as well as reporting with stereotypes being 'dehumanizing' for those involved.
Media outlets may imply or explicitly state that certain individuals are more likely to be victims or perpetrators in given situations, yet these claims may result in the spread of false information or bias. Another concern derived from the sociological 'labeling theory' states that negatively categorizing individuals can further perpetuate criminal activity, as 'people come to identify and behave in ways that reflect how others label them.' Of course, there are instances when social identifiers are absolutely relevant, such as in hate crimes. However, overusing these identifiers when the case does not warrant it diminishes the experience of actual hate crime victims.
Knowing the race, gender, and socioeconomic status of victims and perpetrators is important for evaluating crimes fairly. The court system disproportionately incarcerates people of color and, specifically, Black people. According to the NAACP, 'One out of every three Black boys can expect to go to prison.' Only one out of 17 White boys have similar risks. The NAACP also reports that five percent of illicit drug users are African American, but Black people make up 33% of those imprisoned for drug offenses.
Acknowledging racism leads to reform. Delaware's Senate Bill 47, for example, is 'A measure that removes geographic-based sentencing enhancements [...] known to exacerbate racially disparate sentencing outcomes.' Jurors can also individually ask themselves how race affects their judgment and adjust their behavior. The solution isn't to ignore race but to recognize and fight racial bias.
Knowing socioeconomic status is critical in crimes like theft. Did a person steal to feed their family or just for fun? Someone who stole out of necessity does not deserve a punishment equal to someone who stole for frivolous reasons. This also applies to other crimes where poverty is a motive (not to mention the intersections of race and cyclical poverty).
Race and gender identity are, likewise, crucial to solving hate crimes. Justice.gov defines a hate crime as 'A crime motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.' Justice.gov reports that, on average, 250,000 hate crimes occurred between 2004 and 2015. A majority of states have hate crime laws, and hate crimes are reported to the FBI. Recognizing hate crimes is essential to justice overall.