What does the term ‘hate crime’ mean, the term that is more and more used recently? What kind of defense is possible against such crimes? Who must be protected? What is the difference between ‘vulnerable groups’ in society and other ones? How can they be identified? Why do representatives of the very groups need special defense? And do they really need?
All these questions are very current; and having no answer to them makes it impossible for human rights activists to carry out their work relating to discrimination, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and many others. But even human rights activists – specialists in such questions often can’t agree whether there is need for ‘special forms of defenсe’, ‘special rights’, some groups to be recognized as special at all…
Hate crimes – is not just any violence motivated by strong dislike. This word means only ideologically motivated violence (including psychological violence such as insult, mockery, humiliation), i.e. crimes motivated not by someone’s personal hatred to another person but motivated by hatred to a group of people on grounds of national, religious, gender or other differences. A special word for hatred towards Jews, anti-Semitism, was found long time ago. The word ‘anti-Gypsism’ has recently appeared, though the phenomenon itself has been existing for many years. Racism is a universal word to name hatred towards visually different people, no matter if it is racism of white Americans towards black ones, racism of people from central Russia towards those who come from southern regions (Caucus, Asia) or even racism of black people from South Africa towards the white. There is also a problem of homophobia – hatred towards representatives of sexual minorities.
The very groups are vulnerable ones as they cause hatred only due to their existence. As they, first of all, risk to become victims of crimes if they don’t want or can’t hide their differences. Some people say that it’s better to avoid the term ‘vulnerable group’, not to recognize some groups of people as vulnerable ones but just to find the reason of crime – no matter if a person is a representative of minority or majority when hate reason is obvious and can be proved – both towards a person of titular nation and person of traditional sexual orientation.
This statement, of course, sounds convincing and logic. Moreover, among representatives of majority, somehow, there are often people having strong complex of ‘vulnerability’; thus, they speak about problem of ‘Russophobia’ in Russia and even about ‘genocide of Russian nation’ though they have never suffered from any discrimination, and hatred towards them turns out to be just all in the mind, as they think that other people treat them the same way as they treat ‘un-Russians’.
Of course, it’s necessary to recognize hate motive both in cases when representatives of stronger nation or other group hurt weaker ones – attack, beat, kill just because they are ‘different’, and when, vice versa, representatives of ‘safe’ group become victims of hate crimes.
But does it mean we shouldn’t make any difference if a victim is from ‘the strong’ or ‘the weak’? It’s irrelevant simplification to consider all hate crimes as some kind of the Capulets vs Montagues fight – two groups that are at each other’s throat and both equally guilty of violence towards each other. There is a problem of killing homeless people by those ones who think that poverty, homelessness, beggary are ‘inadmissible’ social factors. Such crimes are committed regularly, cold-heartedly, cynically, cruelly. Hatred towards unprotected and humiliated by life people appears in such murders very clearly. At the same time there are no cases of planned murders of people in normal houses by homeless people with only aim – to show their hatred and dislike. But even if such murder happened, would it stop the problem of inequality of these groups in society, obvious vulnerability of homeless people and disrespectful attitude to them of other people, their weakness and our strength, which is, unfortunately, often misused?
I can give an example of willful simplification and even distortion of discussion about problem of hate crimes. In 2012 Saint-Petersburg city program ‘Tolerance’ issued some kind of personal youth organizer which was handed out to all pupils of schools in order to teach them to respect diversity and not to believe xenophobes. Good intention, mostly useful and right. Important questions are brought up in this issue: racism, islamophobia, discrimination and ‘hate crimes’. Each phenomenon is illustrated with example. In contemporary Russia the problem of ‘hate crimes’ is extremely current: every year tens of people die (most likely hundreds of people – but there is no accurate statistics) because of their ‘un-Russian’ look: migrants from Asian republics and from Caucasus, African people, the Chinese, the Koreans and just visually-different from Slavic people nations – even if they are original nations of contemporary Russia.
So, what example was given to illustrate the problem of motivation for hatred in fights and murders? The story of death of Moscow football fan Egor Sviridov who was murdered in fight with the people who didn’t allow him to take the same taxi they wanted to take in December 2010. Yes, the murderer of Sviridov came to Moscow from the south of Russia – from Kabardino-Balkaria. It doesn’t make him free from responsibility and it doesn’t make him more guilty. As I know there is no evidence that fight wouldn’t have occurred if Egor Sviridov had been any different nationality but Russian. Unfortunately, many crimes have occurred recent years and the analysis of them allows us to say that the motive for attack was person’s difference from others – if one hadn’t been African, Tadzhik, Armenian, Muslim, gay, nobody would have attacked one. From all cases authors of the manual on tolerance picked this one, apparently, quite accidental death of the Russian killed by ‘the un-Russian’ and called it a typical ‘hate crime motivated by hatred towards person’s nationality’. If this is the way to teach children to dislike xenophobia, then, I’m afraid, we will get absolutely opposite effect.
It should be honestly recognized that to be the black is more difficult than to be the white in the country where the white are not just majority, but ruling for centuries majority (like in the USA). To be a Jew in the country where anti-Semitism was for centuries explicit (like before 1917 revolution) or implicit (like in soviet time) state policy is really very hard. It’s a heroic deed not to hide your nontraditional sexual orientation not just at private parties but at public demonstrations nowadays. Representatives of visual minorities – labour migrants, foreign students or local Roma people – risk appearing on the streets of our cities as, first of all, hatred towards them kills them.
Not to recognize these obvious things means to deny the very point of problem of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia. And recognizing them we recognize the fact that vulnerable groups exist. Necessity of some additional measures to protect representatives of these groups comes from simple logic: these are risk groups. We must take away this risk by all means including measures on life and dignity protection of all these people, right to be different, right to be natural and not to be afraid neither of hatred nor contempt.