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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America 2009. LCCR Education Fund.

Hate Crimes Against Individuals with Disabilities

In 2007, 79 hate crimes were reported against individuals with disabilities, one percent of the total reported. This represents a significant increase from the 44 hate crimes (0.44 percent of the total) reported in 2003.

Through much of our country's history and well into the twentieth century, people with disabilities — including those with developmental delays, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and other physical and mental impairments — were seen as useless and dependent, hidden and excluded from society, either in their own homes or in institutions. Now, this history of isolation is gradually giving way to inclusion in all aspects of society, and people with disabilities everywhere are living and working in communities alongside family and friends. But this has not been a painless process. People with disabilities often seem "different" in the eyes of people without disabilities. They may look different or speak differently. They may require the assistance of a wheelchair, a cane, or other assistive technologies. They may have seizures or difficulty understanding seemingly simple directions. These perceived differences evoke a range of emotions in others, from misunderstanding and apprehension to feelings of superiority and hatred.

Bias against people with disabilities takes many forms, often resulting in discriminatory actions in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Disability bias can also manifest itself in the form of violence — and it is imperative that a message be sent to our country that these acts of bias motivated hatred are not acceptable in our society.

Numerous disability and criminology studies, over many years, indicate a high crime rate against people with disabilities. However, the U.S. Office on Crime Statistics reported in 2002 that in many cases, crime victims with disabilities have never participated in the criminal justice process, "even if they have been repeatedly and brutally victimized." There are a number of challenges for disability-based hate crime reporting. For instance, hate crimes against people with disabilities are often never reported to law enforcement agencies. The victim may be ashamed, afraid of retaliation, or afraid of not being believed. The victim may be reliant on a caregiver or other third party to report the crime, who fails to do so. Or, the crime may be reported, but there may be no reporting of the victim's disability, especially in cases where the victim has an invisible disability that they themselves do not divulge.

Perhaps the biggest reason for underreporting of disability-based hate crimes is that disability-based bias crimes are all too frequently mislabeled as "abuse" and never directed from the social service or education systems to the criminal justice system. Even very serious crimes — including rape, assault, and vandalism — are too-frequently labeled "abuse."

In one of the few disability-bias cases successfully prosecuted, in 1999, Eric Krochmaluk, a man with cognitive disabilities from Middletown, N.J., was kidnapped, choked, beaten, burned with cigarettes, taped to a chair, his eyebrows shaved, and ultimately abandoned in a forest. Eight people were subsequently indicted for this hate crime — making this one of the first prosecutions of a disability-based hate crime in America.

The special problems associated with investigating and prosecuting hate violence against someone with a disability makes the availability of federal resources for state and local authorities all that much more important to ensure that justice prevails. To address this need, the pending Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act (LLEHCPA), discussed below, will expand existing federal criminal civil rights protections to include disability-based hate crimes.

It is critical that people with disabilities are covered in the federal hate crimes statute in order to bring the full protection of the law to those targeted for violent, bias-motivated crimes simply because they have a disability.

Next Section: Hate Crimes Against Women

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