Hate crimes cannot be masked by the police and media

By Ashley Hines

The softened language used by the media when discussing hate crimes dilutes the discriminatory motivation behind the injury.

To recognize the true heinousness behind hate crimes, they must be addressed as such. Calling hate crimes what they are will open the floor to a larger discussion of discrimination in America.

A hate crime is defined as “a crime to use, or threaten to use, force to willfully interfere with any person because of race, color, religion or national origin,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Many reported incidents unquestionably fall under this definition and are prefaced with the euphemisms of “suspected,” “possible” or “apparent.” These modifiers take from the formidable nature of the situation, further protecting the perpetrators and invalidating the victim.

“It’s important to make a distinction, because [those behind hate crimes] are trying to divide people,” Brant Aitchison, senior environmental science major, said. “If we all got together and learned what each other’s journeys are and tried to understand our differences, we could all find similarities.”

On Jan. 29, “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, an openly gay black man, was leaving a Subway restaurant when two white men approached him and shouted derogatory comments about his race and sexuality, according to a Jan. 30 ABC article.

The two men proceeded to punch him to the ground, pour bleach on him and tie a rope around his neck. Smollett told Chicago police his attackers shouted, “This is MAGA country.”

The incident sparked an outpouring of support and grief on social media for Smollett. A number of politicians, including Kamala Harris, who recently announced her presidential bid, are speaking out against tolerance for such crimes.

While these groups aren’t afraid to call the incident what it really is — a racist and homophobic hate crime — both law enforcement and media outlets are sticking to their understatements.

The Wall Street Journal called the attack an “alleged hate crime,” according to a Feb. 8 article. CNN called the attack a “possible hate crime,” according to a Jan. 29 article.

People magazine called the attack an “apparent hate crime,” according to a Feb. 7 article. USA Today called the attack “racially charged,” according to Jan. 30 article. These news outlets perform rhetorical gymnastics in an attempt to save themselves from libel.

However, their euphemisms continue to perpetuate the clouds of doubt always surrounding the validation of minorities’ experiences.

“Often what we feel in our hearts and what we understand as something termed as hate might be different than what the laws and standards are,” Molly Holmes, director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, said. “Regardless of if it rises to the level of what the law defines as a hate crime, what happened to [Smollett] is a terrible incident of violence.”


When noting details of the crime, from the noose around his neck to the bleach thrown on his skin and the myriad of vitriol-laced slurs, what happened to Smollett was a blatant hate crime. The fact people have found such difficulty in calling it such is a sad tribute to how desensitized society is to abhorrent acts of discrimination.

People refusing to call similar incidents hate crimes undermines the struggles marginalized groups are subject to regularly. Discrimination is not always as gut-wrenching as what happened to Smollett, but if people in society aren’t comfortable calling it a hate crime, the struggles these groups face will continue to go ignored, and bigotry will continue to thrive.