Editorial: Hate and Crime

A spike in anti-Asian crimes has many people calling for hate crime convictions, but the motives behind such attacks are often unclear.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

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"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

Police officers, no matter their experience, are not the crime-fighting Shadow from the old radio program. You cannot read the hearts of men.

Which is why it is so difficult to investigate hate crimes. Unless a group of Klansmen are standing around in their robes under a burning cross committing a crime and you catch them red-handed, there's really no such thing as a dead-bang hate crime investigation.

Consider what is being characterized as a wave of hate crimes against people of Asian descent in some of America's largest cities. When an 80-year-old Asian man is mugged and the mugger strikes him to the pavement, is that a hate crime? Or just a crime? Either way, the mugger should be hung by his testicles whether he acted out of racial hate or just criminal intent.

But proving that this is a hate crime is extremely complicated. It doesn't necessarily mean that the perp hates Asians. It could mean he's just a brutal thug who saw an old man as an easy target. We have no way of knowing, unless he confesses.

Even when a criminal does confess to a crime involving minority victims, activists and the media may not believe his motive. That is the situation facing the Atlanta Police Department and the Cherokee County (GA) Sheriff's Office.

In March a 21-year-old man allegedly went to three Atlanta-area massage parlors and killed eight people. Six of the dead were Asian women. So this immediately was characterized by the press and by Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) activists as a hate crime.

Investigators are finding it hard to make that case. The suspect reportedly told law enforcement that he attacked the massage parlors because he's a sex addict and he wanted to eliminate the temptation of going to these places.

When Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County SO delivered this news to the press, he paraphrased what the suspect reportedly said, that he was triggered by a "bad day." And activists and some reporters made it seem like the captain was being callous about the death of six Asian women. They then started digging into his social media and found a photo of him wearing a t-shirt that said Coronavirus was imported from China. That alone led them to label him an anti-Asian bigot. Evidently, someone can't be anti-People's Republic of China without hating people of Asian ancestry.

The verdict is still out on whether there has actually been a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. Does that mean there hasn't been an increase? Probably not. The problem with the stats is how they are phrased. Activists argue that anti-Asian hate crimes have risen some massive percentage nationwide. That appears to be true. But percentages can be shocking and still not significant. Small numbers increase in percentage very quickly. And the fact remains that the official number of hate crimes against Asians is relatively small compared to other minorities.

Experts say the official numbers could be misleading because anti-Asian hate crimes are underreported. Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo, who leads the NYPD's task force on anti-Asian crime, says that Asian immigrants who are less than fluent in English are unlikely to report hate crimes. He also says there is a cultural barrier that prevents some Asians from contacting the police. That makes sense. And it probably means that the official numbers on anti-Asian hate crimes are inaccurate on the low side.

Stop AAPI Hate claims there have been 3,795 "incidents" of anti-Asian hate since last March through end of this February. That figure is concerning but the press is exaggerating it by conflating "incidents" with crimes. Stop AAPI Hate admits that the overwhelming majority of "incidents" are verbal abuse. Calling somebody a racial slur is a nasty, disgusting thing to do. But it's not usually covered by criminal code.

So there's not much police can do about most "incidents." Mayor Bill de Blasio recently directed the NYPD to intervene when someone uses a slur against someone of Asian ancestry. The response from NYPD officers basically amounted to: "How do we intervene when no crime is being committed?" The Mayor has been pushing de-escalation since entering office, but nothing is more likely to escalate a situation than having an officer contact an angry New Yorker when there is no authority to do so.

Has there actually been an increase in hate crimes against Asians because of COVID-19? We may never know. Police cannot know the motive behind every crime. And in general street crime is increasing in many cities that are experiencing  a rise in crimes against Asians. That statistically makes everyone in these cities more likely to be victims. Ironically, some of the activists screaming about a rise in hate crimes have helped cause a general increase in crime through advocating for the release of criminals back on the street with no bail. If we want to reduce, anti-Asian crime, perhaps our best strategy is to keep the repeat offense muggers and carjackers and assault perpetrators and all other violent criminals off the streets.  

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