Does Massachusetts have a hate crimes law?
Yes, Massachusetts has several provisions of criminal law geared toward identifying and punishing hate-motivated violence (Massachusetts also has a “criminal harassment” statute, Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 265, sec. 43A, which targets any willful and malicious pattern of conduct or series of acts directed at a specific person, seriously alarming that person, and causing any reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress. It could apply to homophobic statements directed against a person. See Com. V. Welch, 444 Mass. 80 (2005)).
Most specifically, Massachusetts law contains a “Hate Crimes Penalties Act” which provides stiff penalties for those who:
- commit an assault or a battery; or, cause damage to a person’s real or personal property
- with the intent to intimidate a person because race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 265, sec. 39).
Massachusetts also has a law which punishes those who:
- by force or threat of force,
- willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with (or attempt to do so), or oppress or threaten a person
- in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to them under state or federal constitutions or laws (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 265, sec. 37).
Essentially, this law provides criminal penalties for violations of a person’s civil rights (see also Commonwealth v. Stephens, 25 Mass. App. Ct. 117, 123-24 (1987)(sec. 37 applies to hate-motivated harassment and violence)). For further information, see GLAD’s publication, Anti-LGBT Violence and Harassment, at Anti-LGBT Violence and Harassment.
In a typical hate crimes case, both of the above laws are charged, along with another criminal statute, such as assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, or assault with intent to murder and maim. Criminal charges can be initiated by the police, or by the victim themselves.
In order to track hate crimes, the State has set up a reporting system so that incidents alleged are centrally recorded (see Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 22C, secs. 32-35). To report an incident of hate-motivated violence, contact the Violence Recovery Program at Fenway Community Health, at (617) 927-6250 or 1-800-834-3242 (toll free in MA).