A hate incident is an act directed against someone based on race, nationality, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. The difference between a hate incident and a hate crime is that a hate incident is a non-criminal act.
“Unless you’re in workplace or public accommodation, you’re free to be a bigot in America,” says David Barkey, the Southeastern Area Council at the Anti-Defamation League. “That’s a First Amendment right.”
Unlike hate crimes, there is no formal legal definition for a hate incident, which makes it inherently more challenging to take action. But that doesn’t make these incidents less traumatic.
The use of bigoted and prejudiced language is frequently classified as a hate incident. This category can also include offensive jokes, harassment, bullying or intimidation, depending on the severity of the incident. When words threaten violence, or when hate-motivated graffiti harms or destroys property, laws can be enforced for hate crimes.
Here's what to do if you experience a hate incident.
Steps to take
- No matter the severity, hate incidents should be reported to local law enforcement first.
- The law can be used in the case of certain hate incidents, depending on where the incident occurred and the impact it had on the victim.
- In public spaces, such as on the street, it’s more difficult to take legal action against an incident of hate or racism. Legal protections kick in when the incident occurs in a location that is “protected” by law, such as a school or workplace. “There’s a big difference between making a racial comment to someone in the street versus a workplace versus a restaurant or theatre versus in an apartment,” Barkey says.
- If you think your case may be actionable through the law, contact a lawyer.
- Consider sharing your story with a relevant media outlet and/or organizations tracking hate incidents, like Documenting Hate.
- If you’re witness to an incident, there are concrete steps to take to care for the victim. Namely, approach the victim and let him/her know they are not alone, ignore the aggressor, seek help and film the incident, if possible.
- In some states, “public accommodation laws” make it unlawful for an individual to be denied access or to receive poor service or lesser quality accommodations on the grounds of race, gender, ancestry and religion. But not all states have these laws on the books.