Vol. 12 No. 10 (October 2002)

 

POLICING HATRED:  LAW ENFORCEMENT, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND  HATE CRIME by Jeannine Bell.  New York: New York University Press, 2002.  227pp.  Cloth $38.00.   ISBN:  0-814-798977.

 

Reviewed by Mark C. Miller , Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Government, Clark University.

           

This interesting and well-written new book is an ethnographic study of how hate crime laws are enforced, from the perspective of police officers in an unnamed major U.S. city‚s special hate crimes unit.  The author spent a great deal of time observing and interviewing these police officers in order to get a better understanding of how potential hate crimes are initially classified as such, and then eventually investigated by these special unit police.  There is a great deal of attention paid to the discretion that these police have in the various steps of their work.  There is also some mention of the difficulty of distinguishing between protected hate speech and prohibited hate crimes.  The goal of the author was to analyze how hate crime laws work in practice, from the perspective of those who must enforce them.  I think the author succeeded quite well in accomplishing that goal.

 

The author has both a Ph.D. in political science and a law degree from the University of Michigan.  She is currently an associate professor of law and an adjunct professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington.  POLICING HATRED resulted from her Ph.D. dissertation.  Professor Bell is clearly a strong proponent of enacting tougher hate crime legislation, and enforcing those laws already on the books.  Although the book is based on her dissertation, Professor Bell has done a nice job of writing in a very accessible style so that the book can be easily understood by those without much background in this area.  I think it is a great book for upper level undergraduates, and I plan on assigning it the next time I teach my U.S. Judicial Politics course.

 

One of the strengths of this book is that it carefully studies the institutional culture of the special hate crimes police unit in a specific city in a state with a fairly extensive and detailed hate crimes law.  The book provides an enlightening glimpse into how this special police division interacts with the regular police units who often are the first on the scene of a potential hate crime.  Many of the hate crimes in this specific city seem to occur in mostly white, working class neighborhoods which have tended to remain largely insulated and segregated.  The perpetrators seem to be mostly white, while the victims are mostly racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities.  This special police unit includes officers from a variety of backgrounds, including women, African-Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and some gays and lesbians.  The special division also includes officers who have grown up in those white working class neighborhoods.  While most of the hate crime officers seem to support strong efforts to enforce the hate crimes laws, not all share that ideological perspective.  This book raises some interesting questions about how police officers from such diverse backgrounds and perspectives can work together in this special hate crimes team.  The book also examines how the working class neighborhoods resist their law enforcement efforts.

 

Although one of the strengths of this book is its focus on a special hate crimes police unit, that is also one of its weaknesses.  It was well beyond the scope of this research project to examine the attitudes and actions of regular police officers who are not members of the team.  But that research would have provided more context for the findings of this project.  While there is some mention made of the interactions between the „regularš law enforcement and the special hate crimes unit in this city, one must wonder whether hate crime laws are enforced in the same way in cities without a designated division or in cities where similar special units do not receive the resources and political support that this one does.  What happens in cities and in states where the police give enforcement of potential hate crimes a lower priority?  There seems to be strong support from political leaders of this specific city for the special hate crimes mission, and the state also has one of the strongest hate crimes laws in the U.S.  Given that unique political and social environment, one must wonder whether the findings of this study are generalizable to other cities.   Nevertheless, this book is an enlightening observation of police officers in this unique political and social environment.

 

The book has nine relatively short chapters.  After a brief introductory chapter, the second chapter provides the framework that the author uses throughout the book.  The third chapter examines the fairly recent growth of hate crime legislation in the United States.  The fourth chapter assesses how potential hate crimes are brought to the attention of the special hate crimes unit in this city.  The fifth chapter explores the difficulties of investigating potential hate crimes in neighborhoods that oppose strong enforcement efforts for these crimes.  This chapter also examines the internal conflicts experienced by officers from white working class backgrounds while enforcing these laws in their old neighborhoods.  The sixth chapter discusses how the special hate crimes unit functions within the broader organization of the police department.  Chapters seven and eight give a brief view of how prosecutors and the courts handle the information gained from police investigations of the hate crimes.  These chapters remind the reader that law enforcement is not the last step in the process of implementing hate crime laws.  The concluding chapter calls for passage of even more detailed hate crime legislation, especially in states and localities where current law is considered weak.  The author concludes that the special unit in this city clearly helps the victims and potential victims of hate crimes.  She also argues for the importance of having the police diligently investigate even low level offenses such as vandalism, given the devastating cumulative effects on society of these potentially hate-based offenses.

 

I think this is a very readable and interesting addition to the literature on the police and on hate crimes.  Like many books based on dissertations, I sometimes wanted the author to push the analysis further than she did.  Nevertheless, this is a fine work that offers some fresh insights into how the police enforce hate crime laws.  I think my undergraduate students will find it quite illuminating.

 

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Copyright 2002 by the author, Mark C. Miller.