Do you know the difference between graffiting a traffic sign versus graffiting a church? The difference might surprise you. While both are illegal based on the premise of harming someone's personal property, one may have more mal intent than the other. In fact, the second could be considered a hate crime under some circumstances.
The deciding factor to distinguish a hate crime from any other crime is typically the intent behind the crime. You may have graffitied a church for no other reason than that it was there. On the other hand, a church may actually be the target of racial or religious hatred. Take for example an Oregon case back in 2007. A known white supremacist was sentenced for throwing rocks and drawing swastikas on a Jewish synagogue. When the motive behind a crime is racism or hate, then it constitutes a hate crime.
While hate crimes may seem isolated and only attached to obscure sects of people, they are actually quite common. Up to 10,000 hate crimes are reported in the United States each year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hate crimes in the minds of many Americans look like the cross burnings of decades ago, but they will probably look more familiar that most expect.
Recently there was a case in Arlington, Texas in which a lesbian couple was the victim of a hate crime. Someone had written anti-gay slang on their vehicle. If the graffiti was anything other than anti-gay, then the crime may not have been considered a hate crime, but since the intent behind the crime was so obviously to express hatred against their lifestyle choice it was considered hateful.
This is a controversial crime, and arguably the most contested and hotly debated crime in our present day. Especially in cities such as Los Angeles where around 90 percent of the world's ethnicities reside, racial tensions are bound to heat up at times. Not all those accused of hate crimes have actually committed them. These must always be carefully evaluated in order to determine the intent behind the crime.