Hate Crimes Revisited

September 8, 1999

If you want to see how volatile the term "hate crimes" is, all you have to do is look at what happened recently in South Dakota. Back in July four white youths killed a young Native American named Robert Many Horses. Even though the victim was a member of a minority group, the local sheriff never characterized it as a "hate crime." As a result, few people outside the region even heard of the crime.

But in August, a similar crime received massive attention. In this case, three young Native Americans brutally beat a white man named Brad Young. Sheriff Russell Waterbury called the incident a hate crime, something he now regrets doing. National news coverage converged in South Dakota. Newspapers coast-to-coast gave crime coverage, and various television programs covered the story as well.

Some Native American leaders say the difference in coverage is due to racism. Perhaps that is part of the issue, but the biggest issue is the loaded term: "hate crime." Sheriff Waterbury says the beating of Brad Young was so vicious that generalized hate was the only explanation he had for it. Alcohol abuse could have been another factor, but that wasn't why the media picked up on the story.

One official with the Associated Press commented that, "If it's a hate crime--if authorities identify it as that--we cover it." And the converse it true. If it's not identified as a hate crime, it is often ignored. Perhaps racism is also an explanation, but I really think that it shows the agenda of the media. Call a crime a "hate crime" and you guarantee national coverage. Call it a drunken brawl and expect little attention.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.