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How to Successfully Report a Hate Crime

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Photo courtesy of Brian Quinn at the Wellsville Daily Reporter

Guest Post by Maya Hampton

The U.S. government acknowledges that there is a spike in hate crimes whenever the political or social environment becomes contentious around issues of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

The election of Donald Trump is certainly one of the most contentious political and social events in recent history.

The sound-off of hate crimes and bias incidents has already started on social media.

Public and private spaces have been vandalized with vicious Anti-Black language. Mexican students were filmed cowering as their classmates chanted “build that wall”. A trans woman and her young son were the victims of strangers spray-painting “TRUMP” on the hood and back of her truck, before they set it on fire.

A hate crime is an act of violence, violent speech, vandalism and/or arson perpetrated against someone or their property explicitly because of that person’s actual or percieved race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

According to Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, “Because [hate crimes] are motivated by bias, hate crimes are often intended to, and do, send a broader message of violent intolerance toward a broad class of persons.” Wagner also stated, “The fact that the victims of such crimes are selected based on characteristics such as their race or religion can cause all those in the community who share that characteristic to experience similar feelings of vulnerability and secondary victimization. In it’s impact on the community, the fear of becoming a victim of violence can be nearly as debilitating as suffering through the actual crime. The message of intolerace that is communicated through a hate crime can have broadly disruptive social effects as well, and can lead to greater distrust of law enforcement or friction between racial or religious communities.”

The good news is that the annual F.B.I. report on hate crimes showed a “slight decrease” in the number of incidents.

The bad news is that the majority of hate crimes that are anecdotally reported to friends, family, and online followers, remain woefully under-reported to law-enforement and may be under-investicated by law-enforcement.

Part of the resistance to labeling an act of violence or vandalism as a hate crime is the severity of the punishment for the falsely accused.

In the state of California, hate crime laws can elevate what would otherwise be a misdemeanor offense to felony status. If the crime committed is already a felony, proving that it is a hate crime can add three or more years to the sentence.

Although there are difficulties with having your case identified as a hate crime or bias incident, there are many resources available to you and your loved ones.

In 2015, president Obama passed The Matthew Sheperd and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is the first federal hate crime statute. It expands the definition of hate crimes, and also provides important new tools or investigators and prosecutors to deploy against hate crimes.

Here’s what you can do to take the power back if you, or a loved one, have been the victim of a hate crime or bias incident:

1. If necessary, get emergency care.

  • Have a medical professional make a report of any physical injuries.
  • Have a mental health professional make a report of you have been impacted.

2. As soon as possible, detail the incident with as many of the particulars as you can. You’re going to need to advocate for yourself.

  • If you were able to get a video of the incident, you can use that as evidence.
  • If you can, take a follow up video showing and detailing what happened.
  • Write down the time and location of the incident.
  • As best as you can recall, identify the perpetrator’s gender, age, height, race, weight, clothes and any other distinguishing features (tattoos, glasses, etc).
  • Did you hear their name?
  • Were there any witnesses? Can you describe them?
  • Did the attacker state a motive for targeting you?
  • Did they claim affiliation to a particular group?
  • Do you have any history with the attacker? If so, what? (Neighbor, etc.)
  • What, if any, were the specific threats or slurs used?
  • If you were able to obtain medical and/or mental health assessment, include copies of these reports when you go to the police.

3. File an official police report

Involving the police is a legitimate source of fear for many people, especially minorities. Check with your local police department’s website to learn more about the process of filing a report. The San Francisco Police Department has a special division for Hate Crimes. This is a link to pamphlet regarding the legal process, available in several languages.

When you choose to file the police report:

  • Request the responding officer’s full name, badge number, and the name of their commanding officer.
  • This is the important part: provide the officer with ALL of the information you compiled. This will help you build your claim that the incident was in fact a hate crime or bias incident.
  • Be absolutely certain to get YOUR OWN COPY of the reports. This may mean taking a picture with your phone.

If the police and F.B.I. decline to investigate the incident as a hate crime or bias incident, you can still move forward. (Go here for more information on F.B.I.’s Civil Rights Program)

See below for a list of legal resources to utilize in your pursuit of justice.

4. If the person(s) responsible are identifiable members of your community, do not hesitate to file a restraining order.

This protection will help you and others who may be victimized by the same person(s). 

5. Do an internet search to see if your local area has a Hate Crime Task Force, like this one in the greater Sacramento area.

If you’re able to find a task force, contact them for help with your case.

6. You can also file a complaint through the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Here you’ll be able to find helpful information on the complaint process, as well as a resource guide called Getting Uncle Sam to Enforce Your Civil Rights.


Additionally, you can utilize this list of free legal resources:

  1. Southern Poverty Law Center
  2. Legal Services Corporation Directory
  5. American Civil Liberties Union
  6. Law for Black Lives
  7. Anti-Defamation League
  8. Council on American-Islamic Relations
  9. A.I.R. Know Your Rights pocket guide
  10. SF LGBT Center
  11. National Center for Lesbian Rights

For more information on hate crimes:

You can read the 2014 F.B.I. report here.

Read the full Matthew Sheperd and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

Benjamin B. Wagner’s full piece, Unique Approaches for a Unique Type of Crime: Prosecuting Hate Crimes

See the S.P.L.C.’s map of known hate groups by location in the United States.

Write up on the Department of Justice’s hate crime study

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