By Evan Stewart, Jack Delehanty, Ryan Larson, and Stephen Suh
The shooting of three young adults in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, raises a number of questions about hate crimes in the United States. All three victims were Muslim, and interviews with their family members about previous conflicts indicate the killings may have been motivated by anti-Islamic sentiment. On the other hand, police released a statement that the killings were motivated by a parking dispute, and the regional U.S. attorney called them “an isolated incident.” Research shows the social context of a crime matters, even when it isn’t officially labeled a “hate crime.”
Hate crimes are retaliatory and respond to particular social events and contexts. Racialized talk of hate crime, especially when discussed over the Internet, is provoked by anxieties over close social ties to minorities—such as interracial marriage or integrated neighborhoods—more than economic competition. Time, neighborhood, and labeling factors all point to social context as a necessary tool to understand hate crimes.
- Ryan D. King and Gretchen M. Sutton. 2013. “High Times for Hate Crimes: Explaining the Temporal Clustering of Hate-Motivated Offending.” Criminology 51(4):871-894
- Jack Glaser, Jay Dixit, and Donald P. Green. 2002. “Studying Hate Crime with the Internet: What Makes Racists Advocate Racial Violence?” Journal of Social Issues 58(1):177-193
Social context is often ignored in hate crime data. Government offices and watchdog organizations often define hate crimes differently than others, and their data focus on the number of attacks rather than contextual risk factors. This makes it difficult to study hate crimes, especially when witness reports or police records show a parking dispute.
- Donald P. Green, Laurence H. McFalls and Jennifer K. Smith. 2001. “Hate Crime: An Emergent Research Agenda”Annual Review of Sociology 27:479-504
- Christopher J. Lyons. 2008. “Individual perceptions and the social construction of hate crimes: A factorial survey.” The Social Science Journal 45(1):107-131
- Christopher J. Lyons and Aki Roberts. 2014. “The Difference “Hate” Makes in Clearing Crime: An Event History Analysis of Incident Factors.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. 30(3):268-289.
Anti-Islamic attitudes are also central to the UNC case. Emerging research indicates these attitudes are unique in the U.S. context as well, where racial bias interacts with cultural bias against public religious practice in a particular political climate.
- Louise Cainkar. 2009. Homeland insecurity: the Arab American and Muslim American experience after 9/11. Russell Sage Foundation.
- Steve Garner and Saher Selod. “The Racialization of Muslims: Empirical Studies of Islamophobia.” Critical Sociology, July 7, 2014.
- Kerem Ozan Kalkan, Geoffrey C. Layman, and Eric M. Uslaner. 2009. “‘Bands of Others’? Attitudes toward Muslims in Contemporary American Society.” The Journal of Politics 71(3):847–62.
Sharon Presley — November 15, 2016
I'm a social psychologist. One of my specialties is obedience and resistance to authority. This article makes a lot of sense to me. You can't take social events out of context. Behaviors are not isolated; they do need to be placed in the appropraite social context.