Bias-Related Incidents, Hate Crimes, and Conflict Resolution

Posted: 11.05.2014
Updated on: 02.07.2015

8th International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action


Children’s Creative Response to Conflict. Nyack New York

Since 1980, bias-related Incidents and hate crimes have been escalating. The New York City Police Department reports that “70% of all bias-related incidents are committed by people under 19” (Bodinger-DeUriarte & Sancho, 1990. p. 2). No doubt a large number of such persons are students attending school.

This article examines the increasing number and severity of bias-related incidents and hate crimes, the role of conflict resolution in education, and what schools can do to proactively stem bias-related conflict.

The discussion and strategies presented in his article are drawn from the author’s experience as director of Children’s Creative Response to Conflict (CCRC). CCRC is a conflict resolution organization that has been working for 22 years to provide skills to elementary and middle schoolteachers and students on how to deescalate bias-related conflict and violence. CCRC focuses primarily on cooperation, communication, affirmation, conflict resolution. problem solving, mediation, and bias awareness. Its main goal is to help adults learn to teach youth creative conflict resolution skills. These important lifelong skills provide ways of deescalating conflict and set the stage for creating an atmosphere in which bias-related violence is simply not tolerated.



There is controversy when it comes to defining bias-related incidents and hate crimes. Within some school communities, the definitions of bias-related incidents and hate crimes may overlap. Such behaviors may range from name calling to physical assault due to group identification. The critical distinction common to both is that the incident arises out of bias or prejudice due to

difference or perceived difference between individual bias-related incidents clearly move into the category of hate crimes once schools develop policies and enforce rules regarding such behaviors.

There are differences of opinion with respect to the appropriate use of conflict resolution as an intervention strategy in addressing hate crimes. Conflict resolution in schools generally does not involve dealing directly with hate crimes because criminal behavior is handled by law enforcement, courts, and social service agencies. However, the field of conflict resolution docs offer some effective proactive strategies for the prevention of bias-related incidents on campus that may, in the long run, prevent future hate crimes.

How do we define a hate crime? Bodinger-DeUriarte and Sancho (1990) define a hate crime (a) “any act or attempted act to cause physical injury. emotional suffering, or property damage through intimidation, harassment. racial, ethnic slurs and bigoted epithets, vandalism. force or the threat of force motivated all or in part by hostility to the victim’s real or perceived race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation” (p. 73). Based on this definition, they offer a checklist for further defining hate crimes. The list includes (a) symbols or words; (b) activities historically associated with threats to groups (burning crosses, swastikas, confederate flags, defacing pink triangles); (c) posting or circulating demeaning jokes based on caricatures or negative stereotypes; (d) defacing, removing, or destroying posted materials, meeting places, or memorials related to groups; (e) prior history of similar crimes against the same victim group; (f) acts following holidays, events, or activities or political or economic conflicts involving the victim or group and recent or ongoing neighborhood problems; (g) victim belief that the incident was motivated by bias; (h) community organizations, leaders, and residents stating that the incident was motivated by bias; (i) perpetrator exalting his or her own group and demeaning the victim group; (j) no apparent motive: (k) presence of hate group literature; and (l) documented or suspected hate group activity in the community (Bodinger-DeUriarte & Sancho, 1990, pp. 74-75).

The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations has been documenting and studying racial and religious hate crimes since 198O. Although the commission originally started out tracking hate groups, it subsequently began studying the relationship between hate groups and hate crime (L.A. County Commission on Human Relations, 1990). During the early 1980s, the first reports involved religiously motivated hate crimes, most of which were anti-Semitic. By 1985, the target of hate crimes included other religious communities with Muslims, Christian groups, and Buddhists reporting attacks. The majority of religiously motivated crimes currently reported are anti-Semitic.

In 1980, most of the religious hate crimes reported were directed at synagogues, but many occurred at residences, businesses, schools, religious organizations, and cemeteries. In 1981, increasing numbers of anti-Semitic hate crimes targeted private residences and consequently had a much greater impact on victims. The most common types of crimes involved graffiti and hate literature, followed by non-graffiti vandalism. Less frequent crimes included arson, criminal threats, assault and attempted assault, cross burning,

disruption of religious services, and desecration of religious objects. An unusual form of hate crime, called “air piracy,” occurred in 1989 when an individual disrupted Super Bowl coverage with 5 minutes of an anti-Jewish audio broadcast.

By 1989, racially motivated hate crimes in Los Angeles began to be more numerous than religiously motivated hate crimes. The majority of documented race-related hate crimes were directed toward African Americans. This continues to be the case, but increasing threats are being made toward Asians, Latinos, and Arabs. Most racial hate crime sites are private residences with increasing numbers directed at businesses. Racially motivated assaults far outnumber religiously motivated assaults, and graffiti and hate literature account for the largest number of racial hate crimes.

Underreporting of hate crimes makes it difficult to know how many are actually occurring nationwide. However, it appears that hate crimes are on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (1993) Klanwatch report cites 30 bias-related homicides. It comments on increasing brutality as exemplified by an African American man being doused with gasoline and then set on fire, the shootings of lesbians, and the beatings of gay men. Also, 35 suspected White Supremacists were arrested in 13 states on explosives and weapons charges, and 6 weapons arsenals and 13 explosives stockpiles were discovered (Southern Poverty Law Center, 1993). However, only 3,000 of the nation’s 16,000 law enforcement agencies participated in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 1991 Hate Crime Report. Klanwatch Director Danny Welch recommends that all states be required to participate in the Hate Crime Statistics Act, as mandatory reporting would more accurately reveal the magnitude of the problem.

One hate crime on the rise is homophobic violence, the hate crime directed against lesbians and gay men, often referred to as “gay bashing. II The Los Angeles County Commission began recording homophobic violence in 1988 and notes that it most often occurs in residences and most often involves assault (more than 60%). According to the Los Angeles study, 93% of the gay bashing is directed at gay men (pp. 13-14). However, the 1993 Southern’ Poverty Law Center statistics show increasing numbers of lesbians being shot. Also, it is difficult to separate violence against women and violence against lesbians. In addition, lesbians are often less visible than gay men, and sexism, heterosexism, and homophobia are closely interrelated. Reports of violence toward lesbians is particularly high in San Francisco (Herek & Berrill, 1992, p. 73). Studies by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reflect the increase in homophobic violence resulting in several deaths of gays and lesbians. The gay basher is often a young male who does not know the victim and who often acts with other young men (Herek & Berrill, 1992, p. 30).

The Women’s Project in Little Rock, Arkansas, tracks anti gay and antilesbian violence. In 1993 in Arkansas, a gay man was beaten to death, two women were hit with stones, a can of pepper-based “defense spray” was related inside a movie theater during a viewing of The Crying Game, and several anonymous notes and phone messages with anti lesbian and antigay messages were left at university professors’ mailboxes. There were an additional 27 incidents in Arkansas that contributed to an antigay and anti lesbian climate and more than 100 antigay and antilesbian letters to the editors of the Arkansas Democrat Gazelle. The project continues to document anti-Semitic and racist violence and notes that gender-related violence in little Rock seems to be on the rise.

Another part of the Women’s Project is its Watchcare Network Log, which tracks the activities of the radical right. The radical right boasts 21 wins during the last session of the Arkansas legislature “on issues ranging from abortion to sex education to sodomy” (The Women’s Project, 1994, p. 2). A major platform issue for many religious right organizations is an anti gay and antilesbian agenda. The religious right is working toward creating an environment in which antigay bias and even hate crimes are not only tolerated but seen as morally right. Fear connected with AIDS often seems associated with increased homophobic hate crime and, with increased political activism. there may be both increased tolerance and increased violence toward gays and lesbians (Herek & Berrill, 1992, p. 39). A recent film put out by the religious right suggests that gays are trying to take away the rights of African Americans by working for equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Interestingly, crimes directed against women such as rape, battering, sexual harassment, and other forms of sexual violence are often not considered hale crimes. If they were, they would account for the highest percentage of crimes. especially because most rapes go unreported. Although most studies exclude gender bias as a hate crime. The 1993 study by The Women’s Project states that 55 women were murdered through sexual violence in Little Rock. Because there is often a lack of awareness as to what exactly constitutes bias, rape and other violent acts against women are typically excluded from hate crime reporting.



Conflict resolution is a discipline that teaches people the skills of resolving conflict in a way that leads to win-win solutions. It is based on several assumptions: that conflict will continue to exist, that we are not trying to do away with conflict but to learn to deal with it creatively, that there are many alternative solutions, that how people define a conflict will determine how they will resolve it, and that there is not necessarily one “right” answer. Because many conflicts are bias related, in our work at CCRC we spend a lot of time in bias awareness training appreciating our own and other cultures, examining how we experience bias against ourselves and others, and exploring many positive ways of responding to bias. Our work in conflict resolution and bias awareness is largely preventive. Mediation is one commonly used problem-solving process. It is a process in which two mediators help people in a conflict come up with a solution they (the disputants) can accept. There is an assumption of equality and shared power. Therefore, mediation often does not work in conflicts that have a large power imbalance or in which a crime has been committed against another person. It also may not work in conflicts involving drugs, weapons, or extreme violence. The battered women’s shelter movement often sees mediation as ineffective and unacceptable because of that power imbalance between battered women and their batterers. Often a person with power over another person can manipulate the process to continue the abuse. There are some victim reconciliation programs that encourage victimizer and victim to go through a listening and reconciliation process. They may use some of the skills of mediation. but the process is more for the purpose of healing than resolving the conflict.

Conflict resolution techniques may also be ineffectual in responding to other bias related incidents or other hate crimes. If someone is beating, shooting, or burning another person, the degree of violence is beyond sitting down and working out a peaceful solution. Laws are needed prohibiting not only the violence but the threat of violence against a person because of her or his affiliation with a group. Several states and towns have hate crime bills stating that if a threatening comment is made to a person because of her or his race, religion or sexual orientation, then the perpetrator may be arrested. For example. in Provincetown. Massachusetts, where there have been many gay-bashing incidents, a hate crime bill has been put into effect. It essentially states that if someone yells a homophobic comment and implies that violence will follow, then the person who made the comment may be arrested. On February 25, 1993, the state of Massachusetts went a step further and submitted recommendations for schools to develop policies protecting gay and lesbian students from harassment, violence, and discrimination. The recommendations included support groups, counseling, and staff training (Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, 1993). This is a good example of how violence prevention, conflict resolution, and bias awareness all work together to help prevent hate crimes. We need to support students who have experienced various forms of hate crimes. Often adults do not know what a hate crime is or how devastating the incident can be. Although counseling and support give assistance after the fact, educating teachers and staff to use proactive measures during the early school years may help to prevent more serious incidents and hate crimes from happening later on.



The seeds of hate crimes can begin in schools with name calling directed against a student’s race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sex, or sexual orientation. When biased comments (whether sexist, racist, homophobic! heterosexist, ageist, c1assist, looksist, sizist, or ableist) are made and ignored or accepted, the stage is set for escalating bias to occur. In a classroom environment if a teacher dogs not interrupt a biased comment and state that it is not allowed in the classroom (essentially stating that it is against the rules and potentially against the law)! students receive the message that it is all right to make biased comments. With such tacit approval, one could expect that biased comments will continue and increase in number and severity in that classroom. A teacher may not respond to the biased incident for a variety of reasons.

The most common reason is that teachers do not know how to respond. They are often lacking the resources and tools necessary to make a response. A teacher may believe that the comment was wrong but may be afraid of saying the wrong thing, of offending the student who made the comment! or of escalating the situation. Often the teacher’s response is simply to ignore the comment in hopes that it will go away and nothing more will occur. Unfortunately, this serves to encourage other students to make comments concerning that particular bias and probably other biases as well.

However, there are many effective strategies that a teacher can use (depending on the circumstances and the individuals). These include: (a) staying calm; (b) asking the person to repeat what he or she said; (c) asking clarifying questions! such as “Where did you get that information?”; (d) paraphrasing what was said; (e) suggesting an alternative to the biased comment along with the previously mentioned techniques; (f) speaking to the person privately and asking more questions! such as “Why do you feel that way?”; (g) using I statements (“I feel upset when I hear comments made against one group of people”); (h) stating, “I wonder if we could come up with another way of saying that”; and (i) acknowledging that we all have bias and that we need to continue to work on awareness of our bias.

In our conflict resolution work, role-plays are often used to explore ways of interrupting bias. Role-plays provide participants with experience of practicing creative, positive ways of responding to bias. In this practice, we have found that certain approaches have been ineffective: (a) attacking, blaming, or judging the person; (b) responding with an equally biased comment; and (c) ignoring the comment or walking away.



No one is bias free, and there may be situations in which the teacher agrees with the biased comment, is not offended by a biased comment, or does not even notice that a comment is biased. To address this problem, school administrations have begun to provide staff development workshops for teachers in the area of bias awareness. These workshops help teachers to develop skills in identifying and responding to biased comments. School communities have also begun to develop school wide or district wide policies on responding to bias.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education (1990) has prepared the following sample board policy:

It is the intent of the (district) to promote harmonious human relationships which enable students to gain a true understanding of the rights and duties of people in our heterogeneous society. Furthermore it is our intent to promote the rights of equality and human dignity which are basic to the American heritage. Each school is responsible for creating an environment which fosters positive attitudes and practices among students and staff, and which further allows persons to realize their full individual potential through understanding and appreciation of society’s diversity of race, ethnic background, national origin. religious belief, sex, age, disability, or sexual orientation. (p. 1)

Unlike state laws, the Los Angeles County schools’ definition of bias-related incidents includes gender: “Bias-related incidents include any occurrence which is school related that involve a verbal; written or physical action that is intended to create emotional suffering, physical harm or property damage to a pupil because of his or her race, ethnic background, national origin, religious belief, sex or sexual orientation” (Los Angeles County Office of Education, 1990, p. 1).

The board’s policy goes on to suggest appropriate responses to bias-related incidents: (a) responding quickly, (b) assisting the victims and reassuring the victim and family that the incident ‘will be treated seriously, (c) investigating the incident completely, (d) determining proper disciplinary action, (e) determining whether follow-up activities are necessary (such as staff and student awareness activities and responses to the media), and (f) submitting a bias-related incident report to the district.

These policies help provide an atmosphere in ‘which bias is clearly inappropriate and provide guidelines and rules as well as what to do if the guidelines and rules are not followed.



Conflict resolution and school policies and rules are important strategies in responding to bias. There are many other approaches schools can take. One approach is to create an atmosphere in which staff and students choose to appreciate diversity and learn that bigotry is totally inappropriate. For students and teachers to creatively resolve intercultural conflicts, the leadership of a school community must make a commitment to appreciating diversity. School community leadership must demonstrate how people from different groups are valued through the promotion of positive multicultural images. One important method for creating a multicultural environment is providing a balanced study of world cultures that goes beyond European culture and history to include the cultures of Africans, Asians, Native Americans, Latin Americans, South Americans, and others represented in the school population.

Other methods are posited by Bodinger-DeUriarte and Sancho (1990) in the following questions for educators to consider:

  1. Are the cultural expressions of many groups included?
  2. Me minority issues and perspectives included in classroom discussions?
  3. Do discussions of current events include perspectives of world events?
  4. Are students taught the meaning and importance of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and civil rights?
  5. Do textbooks avoid stereotypes?
  6. When textbooks and materials do contain stereotypes, are those stereotypes identified in the classroom as such?
  7. Do classrooms display materials depicting international and multicultural events in positive terms?
  8. Does the curriculum include critical thinking and reasoning skills that take a “big picture” view of events, consider strengths and weaknesses of given arguments and multiple perspectives of a situation, consider long- and short-term consequences of an action, distinguish between cultural judgments and political viewpoints, and question assumptions?
  9. Does the curriculum include components, such as cooperative learning, that reduce cultural isolation? (pp. 51-53)

The American Psychological Association (APA), in its 1993 Violence and Youth report, makes several connections between violence reduction and bias issues. The APA (1993) makes the strong statement that “All programmatic efforts to reduce and prevent violence will benefit from heightened awareness of cultural diversity II (p. 76). Conflict resolution and bias awareness programs need to be culturally sensitive and relevant to the cultures they serve. The APA recommends that diversity training occur in a variety of settings: at work, in the military, in religious institutions, as well as in schools. Although the APA admits there is no definitive explanation for the origins of hate crimes, virtually all studies agree that hate crimes involve learned prejudice, group polarization, and hostility. Therefore, the APA encourages school human relations education and mediation training to reduce the potential for escalating violence. The AP A also suggests that effective interventions for victims of hate crimes be developed to help them recover from the attacks and that the U.S. Civil Rights Commission review and enforce antidiscrimination laws regarding race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and physical disability.



Conflict resolution, mediation, and bias awareness are important violence prevention skills for children, parents, and the society at large. Many institutions including the APA, Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and numerous antiviolence groups agree on the importance of prevention through teaching conflict resolution, mediation, and bias awareness skills. But that is only one part of reducing hate crimes. Eli Weisel, in a series of films about the Holocaust, says that people who commit hate crimes, such as nee-Nazis and skinheads, fed a great sense of moral superiority when committing such crimes. They actually feel that they are doing something good, important, and moral. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Aryan Nation believe that their causes are just. Similarly, the religious right believes it is immoral to “choose” a gay or lesbian lifestyle. They also refuse to accept that people are born with a sexual orientation, and so they believe that gays and lesbians “get what they deserve.” Although we live in a country that supports freedom of speech and religion, the impact of such promoted religious beliefs contributes to a climate of intolerance and prejudice. It is this type of climate that “gives permission” to attack those who are different; therefore, when bias is expressed this extremely, laws are needed to protect the rights of the potential victims of hate crimes. In schools, policies need to be clearly in place and supported by the administration. Preventive bias awareness programs such as those described previously can help create the needed supportive environment. Because so many perpetrators are young males, finding positive nonviolent male role models to offer positive life-affirming activities for boys may be a good solution for reducing violence against any type of group.

Mediation may be an effective tool for resolving a bias-related comment or a property dispute and arriving at a win-win solution, but it is very difficult to look at a hate crime from a win-win perspective. When a hate crime occurs, it has moved beyond the prevention stage and we need to rely on other methods. I was recently on a panel addressing the increase of societal and school violence with a police officer who deals with violence regularly. When I asked him what he thought was most important in reducing violence, he said. “What you do at CCRC We need to reach children at a young enough age so they don’t get to the escalating violence.” Clearly, we need to work together incorporating many different approaches in responding to the rise of hate crimes. Conflict resolution and bias awareness approaches, particularly from a young age, can be very helpful in creating an environment where prejudice toward any group is unthinkable and where learning to appreciate our differences is the norm.



American Psychological Association. (1993). Violence and Youth: Psychology’s Response, Vol. 1: Summary report of the American PsycllOlogical Association Commission on Violence and Youth. Washington, DC: Author.

Bodinger-DeUriarte, C, & Sancho, A. (1990). Hate Crime: Source book for schools. Los Alamitos. CA: Southwest Center for Educational Equity.

Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. (1993. February 25). Making schools safe for gay and lesbian youth: Breaking the silence in schools and in families (Available from Author. 400 Washington Ave., Washington, DC 361(4).

Herek. G. M.. & Berrill, K. T. (1992). Hate-crimes: Confronting violence against lesbians and gay men. Newbury Park. CA: Sage.

Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations. (1990. February). Hate crimes in the 1980s: A decade of bigotry. (Report to Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Available from 320 W. Temple SI., Suite 1184, Los Angeles. CA 90012)

Los Angeles County Office of Education. (1990, March). Sample board policy and administrative guidelines to address hate crimes, pp. I -3. Los Angeles: Author.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (1994. March). Intelligence Report. Montgomery. AL: Author.

The Women’s Project. (1994, March/April). Women’s Watchcare network log. Transformation, pp. 1-3, 12-13.

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