Despite a Texas law that provides penalties for hate crimes, very few people have been prosecuted for committing them.
A new investigative report by ProPublica takes an in-depth look at hate crime prosecutions in in Texas.
ProPublica Reporter Ryan Katz says hate crime protections in Texas date back to 2001, when the Texas Legislature passed the James Byrd Jr. Act. The law punishes crimes committed bases on the race, color, disability, national origin, religion, age, gender or sexual orientation of the victim. The ProPublica report tracked hate crime reports in Texas between 2010 and 2016.
“We found that over that time period, there were over a thousand potential hate crime incidents in the state of Texas,” Katz says.
Incidents included in the report were those recorded by police as potential hate crimes. It is then up to prosecutors to add ‘sentencing enhancement” to a case in order for it to be classified as a hate crime, Katz says.
Of the 1,000 recorded cases, Katz says only eight resulted in a hate crime conviction.
“It’s hard for prosecutors often to prove the intent of the accused, “ Katz says. “You have to now get into somebody’s head to prove their motivation…A lot of people say as well that in a lot of these cases there is no suspect that is ever arrested [when a suspected hate crime occurs.]”
Katz says the lack of a suspect is a problem in a large number of cases.
“For example in Travis County over that time period we found that [in] more than half of the cases [police] did not actually find a suspect,” he says.
Another reason suspected hate crimes aren’t prosecuted is that police often don’t recognize them as such.
“Texas does not mandate or fund training for police, for example, to help build successful hate crime cases,“ Katz says.
Advocates of hate crime laws are disappointed in the low rate of prosecution, Katz says.
“One of the major reasons why the law was passed was to send a message to the community,” he says. “It’s…statement legislation where they say we’re sending a message to communities that hate crimes will not be tolerated. And a few people that I talked to said the lack of convictions undermines that message.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.