by Donald P. Green, Ph.D., Andrew Rich, Ph.D., & Jack Glaser, Ph.D.
While conventional wisdom has been that hate crimes in the United States rise with a declining economy, an analysis of hate crime in New York City from 1987 to 1995 has found little evidence linking racial, religious, ethnic, or homophobic incidents to deteriorating economic conditions. Political scientists Donald P. Green, Ph.D., and Andrew Rich, of Yale University, and psychologist Jack Glaser, also of Yale University, conducted the research, which is published in the July issue of the American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
In determining whether economic downturns precipitate a greater incidence of hate crimes, the authors assembled monthly hate crime statistics compiled by the New York Police Department for the boroughs of Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx and compared them with monthly unemployment rates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They defined hate crimes as "unlawful acts of violence, vandalism, harassment, and intimidation directed against victims on account of their putative race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation." Links between unemployment rates and hate crime were examined separately for Black, Asian, Latino, gay/lesbian, Jewish, and White victim groups. In no case was there a statistical link between economic fluctuations and rates of hate crime, nor were such links found when the authors analyzed historical statistics relating cotton prices to the lynching of Blacks in the South prior to World War II.
The researchers offer two reasons that may explain why economic downturns do not lead to increases in hate crimes. The authors note that laboratory tests indicate that the effects of frustration and aggression dissipate dramatically over time. Absent an immediate target, they speculate that aggression bred by frustration may weaken before an attack occurs. The authors also point out that lynching and contemporary hate crimes tend to be group activities that require more coordination and persistence than individual acts of violence such as domestic violence. The decay of aggressive impulses may explain why economic declines coincide with increases in child abuse but not with hate crime.
Another reason why economic downturns over the past decade have not led to increased hate crimes is historical in nature. The researchers point out that political elite and organizations (such as the Ku Klux Klan) play a mediating role by attributing blame and eliciting public resentment toward minority groups in times of financial decline. The authors conclude that the relationship between economic discontent and inter-group aggression may hinge on the ways in which political leaders and organizations frame and mobilize economic grievances and societal discontent.
Reference: "From Lynching to Gay Bashing: The Elusive Connection Between Economic Conditions and Hate Crime" by Donald P. Green, Ph.D., Jack Glaser, Ph.D., and Andrew Rich, Ph.D. in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 75, No. 1.
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