Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hate Crimes: where they happen and where they don't (are the same place)

Here is an interesting page. It's Esquire's 2006 infographic on instances of hate crimes across the US. It gets its raw numbers from FBI reports and lays the data out on a map of the US - with numbers showing the total recorded instances per state and colors showing how that squares up with per capita population.

Intersting points include:

(1) The South is apparently the place where people are least likely to be victims of hate crimes. Almost all southern states - with the notable exception of Virginia - are in the blue, meaning they are in the category of the lowest per capital instances of hate crimes. Mississippi and Alabama, widely panned in popular culture as the most racist states in the union, also have the lowest instances of reported hate crimes, at 0 and 1 respectively.

(2) The Northeast, by contrast, is the most hate crime-prone region per capita. How's that for a complete reversal of all the stereotypes of a "racist" South and "tolerant" North you were taught in school?

(3) Most strikingly - Arizona and New Mexico have apparently switched geographical locations without telling anyone.

The map is, of course, completely misleading on one level. Everything depends on (a) how much information local authorities choose to share with the FBI and (b) what local definitions of hate crimes even are (they vary widely). Cross-state comparisons are, in fact, impossible under these circumstances, not merely "difficult," as the helpful disclaimer tells us.

On another level, it's completely revealing: hate crimes are a self-fulfilling prophecy almost by definition. If you live in a state that defines everything as a hate crime, you live in a place where a lot of them happen to occur. One notes, for example, that high-scoring Virginia is the state that gave rise to the Supreme Court ruling that cross burning is not protected free speech, even though, perversely, burning the flag apparently is. (For the record, I consider burning cross es and flags both - and anything that belongs to you, provided you don't endanger bystanders, really - to speech in the relevant definition for the First Amendment.) If this intolerance of speech rights is prevelent in Virginia law, it's not surprising that a lot of stuff that's protected speech elsewhere turns up as a "hate crime" on Virginia's radar.