What is the History of Bias-Motivated Violence?

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August 6, 1999

· "Bias-" or "hate-motivated violence" is not a new phenomenon.

· From the well-documented atrocities of the Holocaust to the lynching of Blacks in the U.S. to the more recent ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, violence organized around social characteristics and group membership is an identifiable feature of human societies across the globe, both historically and at present (Bensinger 1992; Kressel 1996; Lutz 1987; Newton and Newton 1991).

· Religious, ethnic, and racial violence occurred routinely in the early American Republic.

· Between the 1830s and 1840s, there was sporadic anti-Black, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant riots and vandalism throughout cities in the eastern United States, which directly contributed to the creation of metropolitan police departments (Friedman 1993).

· From 1882 to 1968, 4,740 people, most of whom were Black, were lynched in the United States (Jacobs and Potter 1998; Newton and Newton 1991).

· Violence against homosexuals and people presumed to be homosexual has been documented for as long as the lives of gay men and lesbians have been documented.

· Boswell (1980) documented violence against gay men and lesbians in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian era to the fourteenth century.

· Katz (1976) documented a history of violence over the last 400 years due to individuals' sexual orientation, identity, or same sex behavior. Historically, such violence was often present as official state policy, perpetrated by representatives of the state, as well as private citizens.

· The term "hate crime" has only recently been applied to bias-motivated violence. In the early 1980s, activists and lawmakers throughout the U.S. began to respond to what they perceived to be an escalation of racial, ethnic, religious, and other forms of intergroup conflict with a novel legal strategy - the criminalization of hate-motivated intimidation and violence. As a result, a new category of crime emerged (Bensinger 1992; Jacobs and Potter 1998; Grattet, Jenness, and Curry 1998; Jenness and Grattet 2000).


Bensinger, Gad. 1992. "Hate Crimes: A New/Old Problem." International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 16:115-123.

Boswell, John. 1980. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Friedman, Lawrence. 1993. Crime and Punishment in American History. New York: Basic Books.

Grattet, Ryken, Valerie Jenness, and Theodore Curry. 1998. "The Homogenization and Differentiation of Hate Crime Law in the United States, 1978-1995: Innovation and diffusion in the criminalization of bigotry." American Sociological Review 63:286-307.

Jacobs, James and Kimberly Potter. 1998. Hate Crimes: Criminal Law & Identity Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jenness, Valerie and Ryken Grattet. 2000. Bias Crime Politics and Public Policy: Building a Response to Discriminatory Violence. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. (Part of The American Sociological Association's Rose Series in Sociology.)

Katz, Jack. 1976. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

Kressel, Neil K. 1996. Mass Hate: The Global Rise of Genocide and Terror. New York: Plenum Press.

Lutz, Chris. 1987. They Don't All Wear Sheets: A Chronology of Racist and Far Right Violence: 1980-1986. Atlanta, Georgia: Center for Democratic Renewal.

Newton, Michael and Judy Ann Newton. 1991. Racial and Religious Violence in American: A Chronology. New York: Garland Publishers.

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