The term "hate crime" is defined by various federal and state laws. In its broadest sense, the term refers to an attack on an individual or his or her property (e.g., vandalism, arson, assault, murder) in which the victim is intentionally selected because of his or her race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
Every year, thousands of Americans are victims of such hate crimes. Each one of these crimes has a ripple effect in our communities. The pain and injustice of such crimes tear at the fabric of our democratic society, creating fear and tensions that ultimately affect us all.
Schools are not immune from such intolerance and violence. Teenagers and young adults account for a significant proportion of the country?s hate crimes both as perpetrators and as victims. Hate-motivated behavior, whether in the form of ethnic conflict, harassment, intimidation, or graffiti, is often apparent on school grounds. Hate violence is also perpetrated by hate groups, which actively work to recruit young people to their ranks.
The good news is that children are not born with such attitudes; they are learned. It is possible for schools, families, law enforcement, and communities to work together to prevent the development of the prejudiced attitudes and violent behavior that lead to hate crimes. Prejudice and the resulting violence can be reduced or even eliminated by instilling in children an appreciation and respect for each other?s differences, and by helping them to develop empathy, conflict resolution, and critical thinking skills. By teaching children that even subtle forms of hate are inher-ently wrong, we can hope to prevent more extreme acts of hate in the future.
Educators have a tremendous opportunity to reduce or eliminate hate-motivated crime and violence. A number of school districts and individual schools have already taken action to create comprehensive anti-hate policies and pro-grams that involve every facet of the school community students, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators. These schools have worked to create a school climate where hateful acts are not tolerated, and to provide an equitable, supportive, and safe environment for all students.