Implicit bias and hate crimes: A psychological framework and critical race theory analysis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Scopus citations


On August 19, 1991, ongoing tensions between African Americans and Lubavitch Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn erupted into widespread rioting and violence after a Jewish driver killed a 7-year-old African American boy and seriously injured his cousin. The African American community was enraged by allegations that the police and ambulances gave preferential treatment to the Lubavitchers at the scene of the accident. During the riots, calls were made to "Kill the Jews." Subsequently, a Hasidic man, Yankel Rosenbaum, was surrounded by a group of African American men and stabbed to death by Lemrick Nelson. At trial, Nelson testified that he acted without premeditation and that he was drunk at the time of the stabbing (Conaway, 1996; Streissguth, 2003). Another such incident occurred on December 19, 1986, when three African American men-Timothy Grimes, Michael Griffith, and Cedric Sandiford-stopped in the predominantly White neighborhood of Howard Beach, Queens after their car broke down. They were confronted by a group of White neighborhood youth who used racial epithets and told them to leave the area. Later that evening, Grimes, Griffith, and Sandiford were exiting a pizzeria when the youth returned, armed with baseball bats. They severely beat the three men and attempted to chase them away, shouting statements such as, "There's niggers in the boulevard. Let's kill 'em" (Levin & McDevitt, 1993, p. 5). While trying to escape his attackers, Michael Griffith ran onto a parkway and was killed by oncoming traffic (Perry, 2001; Streissguth, 2003). The Crown Heights and Howard Beach incidents-which are similar in many ways, but very different in others-are only two of the thousands of racially motivated violent acts that have occurred in the United States (for reviews, see, e.g., Levin & McDevitt, 1993; Perry, 2001; Streissguth, 2003). Although racially motivated aggression has occurred since European settlers first arrived in the Americas, it was not until the late 1970s that such acts were given the label of "hate crimes" and treated as distinct entities (Streissguth, 2003). Since that time, hate crimes have been legally defined as criminal acts influenced by the victims' group membership and/or racial prejudice (Mennenger, 2005). The majority of states and the federal government have passed legislation intended to document, reduce, and punish hate crimes (Mennenger, 2005; Streissguth, 2003). In addition, social scientists from several disciplines have developed empirical research and theory aimed at identifying the causes and effects of hate crimes. In this chapter, I build on the work of Margaret Bull Kovera (this volume) and Frederick Lawrence (this volume) by analyzing one potential contributor to hate crimes, implicit bias, from both psychological and legal perspectives. First, I review research on psychological processes that may contribute to hate crimes, as well as implicit prejudice and stereotyping. Based on that literature, I propose a framework for understanding when implicit bias is and is not likely to contribute to hate crime. Next, I discuss the legal implications of recognizing implicit bias as a potential contributor to aggressive acts, using a Critical Race Theory perspective to offer some observations about how the legal system might consider the role of psychological processes that do not involve conscious intent. Finally, I try to bring these analyses together, suggesting common threads and areas for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Consciousness in Legal Decision Making
Subtitle of host publicationPsychological Perspectives
Number of pages19
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)


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