Deadly Words: State Power and the Entanglement of Speech and Violence in Hate Crime

Abstract

Any analysis of hate crime that attempts to separate speech from action, language from violence, faces epistemological difficulties that limit the range of conversations about laws responding to identity-based injury in the United States. Active debates have raged over the implications of bias crime sentence enhancement laws for the protection of ‘freespeech’, thus addressing the inextricability of language and meaning from hate crime. Those in favor of legal responses to identity-based injury tend toward essentialist claims which assume the stability of identity and of meanings inherent in words or actions. Those opposed assert the impossibility of codifying the meaning of words or actions in the law, and/or they worry about the reification of (victimized) identities accompanying bias crime statutes. This article argues that the focus on language and speech in these debates simultaneously enables an evasion of discussion about the law's response to bias-related violence, and misleadingly assumes too much stability in the functions of law and the nature of state power. Interviews conducted by the author with individuals involved in a 1992 racist hate crime are used to show the diverse elements of state power suffusing the incident and its aftermath. An analysis of the crime's investigation and prosecution under a Maryland hate crime statute suggests that law enforcement officers are primarily using hate crime laws as public relations tools in a fight against community perceptions that they are themselves bigots.

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Rosga, A. Deadly Words: State Power and the Entanglement of Speech and Violence in Hate Crime. Law and Critique 12, 223–252 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1013788321729

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  • bias crime
  • free speech
  • hate crime
  • identity
  • law
  • narrative
  • police
  • racism
  • semiotics
  • violence