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What Makes a Crime a Hate Crime?

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Crimes are classified in a few different ways. There are the types of crimes you often see in news headlines, like theft, robbery, assault, and murder. Then there are hate crimes, which are appended to other charges and carry greater penalties.

But what qualifies a crime specifically as a hate crime?

Hate crime cases hinge on motivation: Was the crime motivated by a bias against the victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or other protected aspects of their identity? Hate crime laws are usually designed to go hand-in-hand with the actual offense the person is charged with, such as assault or murder, putting greater severity on the crime due to its hateful motivations. For example, it’s not illegal to randomly spew racial epithets—but if you go so far as to punch someone because of your racial bias, the crime becomes much more serious in the eyes of the law.

Furthermore, because hate crimes are dependent on the perpetrator’s intentions, the victim doesn’t actually have to be a member of the protected class the perp thought he or she was attacking to be covered under hate crime laws. If someone attacks you because they think you’re Jewish, but you’re actually an agnostic Catholic, it’s still a hate crime. In other words: Being wrong about who to target is not a legal excuse for bigotry.

If the activities labeled hate crimes, like robbery and assault, are already crimes, why do we need more laws saying those crimes are wrong?

Hate crimes are motivated more by how a person is perceived than any of that person’s words or actions, making such crimes particularly terrifying for both the victim and the community at large. According to the Offices of the United States Attorneys:

"The fact that the victims of such crimes are selected based on characteristics such as their race or religion can cause all those in the community who share that characteristic to experience similar feelings of vulnerability and secondary victimization. In its impact on the community, the fear of becoming a victim of violence can be nearly as debilitating as suffering through an actual crime.

The message of intolerance that is communicated through a hate crime can have broadly disruptive social effects as well, and can lead to greater distrust of law enforcement or friction between racial or religious communities.”

State hate crime laws cover different classes of people in addition to those protected by federal legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Only five states do not have hate crime laws on the books. Many cover crimes perpetrated with bias concerning disabilities, sexual orientation, and gender. Some protect against biases regarding transgender individuals and gender identity, age, and even political affiliation.

Being able to classify something as a federal hate crime helps agencies like the FBI step in where state and local authorities either cannot or will not prosecute, as well as provide grants to assist local police in pursuing the case. For instance, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 expanded federal hate crime statutes to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, and disability status as well as expanding the FBI’s ability to investigate hate crimes.

Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was beaten, tortured, and left to die in 1998, but because sexual orientation wasn’t yet a federally protected class, the Department of Justice was unable to help the Laramie, Wyoming, police work the case, and pursuing justice ended up being so costly that the police department had to furlough five of its officers to stay afloat.

James Byrd Jr. was an African-American man living in Texas who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in 1998. Although Texas did have hate crime laws on the books, they were deemed too vague to be enforceable.

However, hate crime laws are controversial in some circles. Some free speech advocates worry that hate crime laws could be wielded to punish freedom of speech, but these laws generally only cover criminal action, not hate speech. In 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the state’s hate crimes law, arguing that its language was too broad because it didn’t specify the groups that were protected under the statute. It covered all victims chosen because of general “bias or prejudice.” In May 2017, Texas broadened its hate crime laws to include police officers as a protected group, following a 2016 ambush on police that left six Dallas officers dead—though the state is also covered by all federal hate crime statutes.

The federal government’s hate crimes laws have been ruled legally sound. The legality of increasing punishment based on a person’s beliefs was affirmed in a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case called Wisconsin v. Mitchell. Lawyers for a young black man who incited an attack on a young white man because of his race argued that the five extra years tacked on to his sentence for committing a hate crime violated his First and 14th Amendment rights, but the Supreme Court disagreed, upholding the greater penalties awarded in hate crimes.

But if hate crime statutes are in part due to how the offenses disrupt the greater community, is a terrorist attack a hate crime?

A terrorist attack isn’t always a hate crime, but it can be. The FBI defines terrorism as a violent act that’s designed to intimidate the civilian population or influence government policy, including through mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. For example, in the summer of 2016, the FBI classified the deadly mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub as both an act of terrorism and a hate crime, saying that the shooter was motivated by anti-gay bias and because he had asserted that his actions were revenge for American airstrikes in the Middle East.

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How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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