Why it's so hard to prove an anti-Muslim hate crime, in one chart


Three Muslim Americans were shot execution-style in their Chapel Hill home. Was it a hate crime? Or a parking dispute gone wrong?

Hate crime laws are designed to make it tough to prove one. For alleged hate crimes against Muslims, prosecutors essentially have to infiltrate the mind of the criminal and show evidence of religious-fueled malice at the moment of violence. This means that attacks on Muslims, who are relatively frequent victims of hate crimes, are rarely labeled that way by the federal government. Even when it really looks like one. (In 2013 there were 165 hate crimes recorded against Muslim Americans.)

As the Chapel Hill shooter returns to court this month to face three charges of first-degree murder (a federal hate-crimes investigation is still underway), the chart below shows how an act that appears clearly fueled by hate can still fail to be recorded as such by the law. Hover over the “Yes” and “No” circles for more information, and over the solid circles to read about the recent cases of suspected hate crimes that informed this chart, which is based on media reports and interviews with lawyers. Several of the investigations are still underway.

Design by Alejandra Aristizabal

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