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Cross-Burning Is Not Just an Arson: Police Social Construction of Hate Crimes in Baltimore County

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 33 Issue: 3 Dated: (August 1995) Pages: 303-326
Date Published
24 pages
This article examines the rationale for a police initiative in addressing hate crimes; the characteristics of incidents labeled as such in Baltimore County, Maryland; and some of the problems in defining, identifying, and verifying bias motivation.
Growing public concern over racial and ethnic conflict and a perceived increase in hate crimes during the 1980s have led to legislation expanding the scope of the law and the severity of punishment for such offenses and to police-initiated efforts to focus attention on hate crimes. Although a number of critiques have examined the legislative approach, little attention has been devoted to the police response. Because about 40 percent of the offenses initially considered by the Baltimore County Police Department to be motivated by racial, religious, or ethnic (RRE) prejudice subsequently are not verified as RRE motivated, a closer examination of all such cases permits insight into the social construction of bias motivation and related issues raised by a police hate-crime program. These include determining what forms of bias are eligible for special responses; identifying bias motivation; weighing the victim's perception of the event; determining the line between criminal and noncriminal incidents; and adopting consistent standards for verifying ambiguous events. Footnotes, tables, references

Date Published: January 1, 1995