Today is November 11th and in Canada this is a big day. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the armies stopped fighting World War I. Remembrance Day has come to symbolize the fight for freedom and the need to recognize and honor the losses that have resulted. Trying to figure out a post that is fitting for such a day was not easy but led me to put some thought into hate crimes against others and the impact that this can have for our country and our world.
Hate crimes are essentially motivated by prejudice and happen all over the world. If you want the world or the community around you to be stable and safe for everyone, there needs to be a foundation of respect and equal rights for all. Hate crimes that go unchecked are a serious challenge and can lead to many issues from civil unrest to terrorism and to war as our history demonstrates.
Hate crimes destroy individual freedoms and erode community safety.
Since hate crimes are based on a foundation of prejudice, the victim is selected due to their membership or perceived membership of a particular group. Where the crime involves damage to property, the property is chosen because of its association with a victim group and can include places of worship, community centres, vehicles or family homes.
Hate crimes can be committed by people with no record of bias-motivated activities or other criminal behaviour. Despite popular perceptions, hate crimes are not always committed by members of far-right groups or ideological movements. For these reasons, hate crimes can be hard to recognize and respond to.
Hate crimes are not like other crimes, not only in their motivation but in regards to the impact on individual victims, on groups, those associated with the victim and on society around us. The impact is different because of the bias that exists to justify the behaviour and motivations of the offender. Any hate crime incident is more likely to leave the victim in fear of future attacks and more violence – and with good reason. They have just been shown that they are not safe and for reasons they have no control over. They can’t change (nor should they have to) the colour of their skin, their gender or sexual orientation, their religion, their culture, their ethnicity, their language, the socio-economic status; whatever.
It’s important to remember what we already know about domestic violence here. We know that the ongoing fear of an unprovoked and unpredictable attack can cause tremendous emotional and physical damage to a person and to those around them. We know that chronic stress caused by this fear can cause anxiety issues, medical issues and sleep disturbances and we know if it goes on long enough, this can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, can change the wiring in a person’s brain and can cause a multitude of chronic medical concerns.
Hate crimes can cause an individual to become extremely isolated. During a time when a person may need community supports, they may feel it is not safe enough to reach out. Hate crimes give the message that the victim is not acceptable in society in some manner so it is common to see people withdraw in the hopes of protecting themselves.
Our society has a huge role to play in this. This is not something that we can wash our hands of and step back and say ‘not my problem’. When hate crimes are not thoroughly investigated and prosecuted and if legal recourse is not available, this can send a signal that the perpetrators are free to do as they wish. This may encourage others to commit similar crimes. A lack of consequences for perpetrators contributes to rising levels of violence within a country and within communities. It impacts us all, even when we don’t think so because we don’t live in that neighbourhood, live in that city or live in that country. The impact affects violence and stress levels for everyone that hears it and sees it and knows about it. In the worst cases, hate crimes can cause retaliatory attacks by the victim groups, creating a spiral of violence.
As our country mourns those that sacrificed their lives to help the rest of us be free, we should not lose sight of some of the root causes of violence and wars throughout our world. In doing this, in making the changes we need to within our communities, by ensuring that we will all recognize the impact of hate and the crimes associated to it and do our part to foster and protect equal rights and freedom for all; then we will truly honor those who have come before us in order to do their part as well.