‘Nobody is ever just a victim’: 6 tips for journalists covering hate crimes

By Holly Butcher Grant, National Press Club Journalism Institute

Amid rising attacks on racial, ethnic and religious groups, journalists are navigating the complex terrain around what constitutes a hate crime.

So how can they cover hate crimes and other attacks on vulnerable populations? Here are some tips from a recent National Press Club Journalism Institute panel.

First, understand what constitutes a hate crime

The FBI defines a hate crime as a traditional offense — like arson, assault, murder or vandalism — with the added element of bias, whether it’s against race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.

“Someone has to commit a crime. And then law enforcement has to be able to prove that the primary motivation for the commission of the crime was bias on some sort of protected identity characteristic,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center and a public speaker and educator on hate crimes and the American Civil Rights movement.

But proving the motivation behind the crime can be difficult, especially if law enforcement officers are not trained on what to look for.

“There has to be some kind of clear indicators of motivation, including in the language that was used, was rhetoric or bias expressed during the commission of the crime?” Brooks added.

Focus coverage on the community impact whether or not it’s legally classified as a hate crime

While the distinction of a hate crime is important for legal reasons, that definition isn’t necessary for members of a community to feel unsafe.

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