The great Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive darkness; Light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; Love can do that.” 

He spent his short life fighting against hate of all varieties and seeking equality and justice in social, political and legal arenas. In today’s legal world, crimes that are based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability are often legally categorized as hate crimes.

Let’s examine what this means and how this changes the potential consequences of said crime. 

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What Is A Hate Crime? 

The term hate is often confused with anger, violence, or rage, making many question why all crimes are not labeled “hate” crimes. But in the legal sphere, hate “means bias against people or groups with specific characteristics that are defined by the law.” (Source –

To be more specific, at the federal level, hate crime laws include crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. (

Additionally, most state hate crime laws include crimes committed on the basis of race, color, and religion; many also include crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability.

The “crime” part of the terminology often includes violent crimes. These could be crimes such as assault, murder, arson, vandalism, or even threats to commit such crimes.

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The Broader Impact of a Hate Crime 

Violent crimes are often very scary for the person experiencing or even witnessing the crime. Hate crimes often have a broader, more insidious impact. Hate crimes tend to impact not only the actual target of the crime and those who witnessed it but also people in the community; those who consider themselves part of that vulnerable or marginalized group and their families. 

Reporting Hate Crimes 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Massachusetts experienced 525 hate crimes in the state, both against persons and their property. In general, the amount and frequency of these crimes are increasing each year. The top three “Bias Categories” include race/ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation over the past year of data. 

To report a hate crime, start by reporting the event to your local police department then follow up your reporting with a tip to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) tip line at 1-800-225-5324.

Consequences of Hate Crimes 

Since every circumstance is different, it is hard to say how the designation of a hate crime will impact the consequences. In some cases a civil rights case may be taken up, the penalties and jail time may be enhanced, and the damages may be increased when a crime is determined to be motivated by a bias such as the ones we discussed here. 

For more specific information about hate crimes and how it changes the legal case against a defendant and the potential consequences, an experienced lawyer can answer your individual questions. Talk to the office of Patrick Conway Law for more information or to schedule an appointment.