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Federal Hate Crime Laws Will Not Protect Black Lives

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

America finds itself engaged in yet another national conversation on race in the wake of the white supremacist terrorist attack in Buffalo, New York. As with every other discussion of this nature, people are crying out for solutions. Unfortunately, it does not appear any are forthcoming. But some are renewing calls for anti-black hate crime legislation at the federal level, suggesting this might be a way to address racially-motivated attacks.

On Twitter, podcaster and political commentator Tezlyn Figaro wrote:

So what’s up with the ANTI-BLACK hate crime law? Many feel the law is useless (maybe, maybe not), but think on this: if the law is so useless, why not pass it for Black Americans?

During an interview with Spectrum Local news, a Buffalo resident, who used to work at the supermarket where the shooting occurred, said the atrocity could have been prevented. She called on Congress to enact anti-black hate crime legislation similar to the anti-Asian law that Congress passed in 2021. “It’s important that they pass it because it’ll show that America actually cares about Black people,” she said. “Because we don’t really know. We’re really not sure about it.”

In an op-ed, writer Richard Sudan echoed calls for a federal hate crime law. He wrote:

As the McMichaels and Roddy Bryan face federal hate-crime charges, America is reminded that there needs to be an anti-Black hate crime law set in place too. Asian-American’s rightly had this law quickly passed to protect their communities. Do it for Black Americans, too.

Those calling for federal legislation to address this type of violence seem to sincerely believe in their efficacy. They believe that by enacting laws designed to make racially-motivated terrorism more illegal, it will cut down on terrorist activity. But the glaring problem with this assumption is that it does not work.

Let’s take the anti-Asian hate crime law.

Less than a year after its implementation, it is clear that it is not doing much to curtail anti-Asian violence. Newsweek reported:

Despite these concrete and historic concerns, the bill was ratified May 20, 2021. Even with these measures, Stop AAPI Hate reported a staggering 10,905 incidents of racial bias between March 2020 and December 2021. In New York City this year, a string of violent incidents occurred with Asian victims, such as on trains where law enforcement increased to 3,500 officers under the recently elected Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer. In the recent killing of an Asian delivery worker, police had been called to apprehend the suspect multiple times in previous incidents. “There’s nothing that any government agency has done to ensure or to lead me to think that those incidents wouldn’t happen again,” said Tang, the STOP AAPI Hate researcher.

Moreover, Asians have indicated they favor other solutions to stop these attacks. Stop AAPI Hate conducted a survey in which only 30 percent of Asian Americans and 21.13 percent of Pacific Islanders believe more policing is the best strategy for combatting these attacks. Interestingly enough, 52.8 percent of Asians and 57.5 percent of Pacific Islanders preferred education. Furthermore, 49.7 percent of Asians and 57.5 percent of Pacific Islanders said they believed community-based solutions were the answer to the problem.

So far, there are no surveys measuring the attitudes of black Americans regarding dealing with hate crimes, despite the fact that they make up the highest percentage of the victims of racially-motivated violence. I did have an opportunity to speak with other black folks during a Twitter Spaces session, and there were some suggestions that didn’t necessarily involve government solutions.

One person suggested black residents of predominantly black communities get together to hire private security since they can’t always depend on local law enforcement to patrol their neighborhoods consistently. In a state like New York, this might be a more effective solution to addressing crime overall, given that the state and its cities seem to prefer soft-on-crime policies that protect criminals more than civilians.

A San Francisco community actually did this in response to skyrocketing crime rates. Residents were fed up with burglaries, car thefts, and other crimes. If it is working for them, it can possibly work for black communities as well.

Others, as you might have already guessed, suggested gun ownership, which has already been increasing in the black community. I’m one of those who would love to see more black men and women arming themselves in response to this tragedy. Again, this isn’t just about hate crimes – it’s about all violence. Given that black people are far more likely to be attacked by other blacks in their neighborhoods than by a white supremacist, this would go further towards saving black lives.

Of course, Democrats who run these areas are already doing everything they can to prevent law-abiding folks from obtaining firearms, but that has not stopped the increase in black gun ownership. Moreover, the upcoming Supreme Court decision in New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen might actually make it easier for black Americans to obtain concealed carry permits.

There are likely other ways for black Americans to protect themselves against violence – whether it is racially motivated or not. But as I’ve been cautioning, the government is not the solution to this problem. Sure, it might play a role – but the only ones who are truly dedicated to protecting black folks is black folks themselves, not politicians.