Hate Crime as a Moral Category: Lessons From the Snowtown Case
The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 249–271, 2007
24 Pages Posted: 4 May 2009
Date Written: April, 28 2009
Hate crime is more than a legal category. It is also a moral category that promotes tolerance and respect over prejudice. In so doing, the concept of hate crime makes a claim for social justice on behalf of those groups disadvantaged by racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and so on. This article argues that one of the means via which the concept of hate crime does this is to generate certain forms of 'emotional thinking' among the general public, such as compassion for victims and contempt or disgust for perpetrators. The question of whether a given criminal event will be labelled and constructed as a hate crime is thus not simply a matter of whether it meets the minimal definitional requirements. It is also dependent upon the capacity of those who claim victim status to engender forms of emotional thinking that encourage others to see them as the undeserving victims of prejudice, that is, as 'ideal' victims. This argument is grounded in a recent empirical study of the Snowtown murders in South Australia. Despite the emergence of a strong 'hatred as motive' theme in the legal arena, the murders have never been publicly labelled as hate crime. The article argues that images of deep moral failure on the part of the victims (not just the perpetrators) precluded them from engendering forms of emotional thinking that are essential if the concept of hate crime is to function as a moral category.
Keywords: hate crime, violence, criminal law, law and emotion
JEL Classification: K10, K14, K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation