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Feds probe whether post-election incidents qualify as hate crimes

After the election on Nov. 8, civil rights groups have sounded the alarm over a number of violent incidents targeting minorities, particularly Muslims, Latinos and African-Americans. The incidents ranged from harassment to intimidation at school or church. Some of them were also targeted at Trump supporters.

Meanwhile, the FBI recently released its annual crime statistics report for 2015, which showed a huge, 67-percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims.

"Many Americans are concerned by a spate of recent news reports about alleged hate crimes and harassment," Attorney General Lynch said in a statement on Friday. The Justice Department and federal prosecutors are specifically looking into whether any of those post-election incidents constituted hate crimes.

The federal hate crimes statute didn’t create a new class of crime. Instead, when a prosecutor can prove a defendant was motivated by bias when committing a particular crime, the judge can lengthen that defendant’s sentence. However, the defendant’s bias has to have been based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation in order for the hate crime statute to apply.

After the turbulence has settled in the wake of a violent crime, however, it can be hard to determine whether it was motivated by the kind of bias proscribed in the hate crime statute as opposed to, say, personal animus or anger over a perceived slight.

Most incidents of ordinary violence are charged in state courts, however, so they won’t be part of the federal probe. California and many other states also have hate crime statutes, but it is unclear whether any state will be performing a wide-scale investigation of the post-election incidents or episodes of violence against Muslims.

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