Painting racist, sexist graffitti should be a hate crime

October 24, 2017

Where can you paint racist and sexist slurs on school buses and not get charged for a hate crime?

In Delaware. And, as it turns out, in many other states.

Under Delaware law, vandalizing a school bus with paint is a crime. But paint all the hate words you want, and it won't be counted as an aggravator or increase the charges – unless the person you hate is sitting on the bus. Or owns the bus. Or if a person whose car is vandalized represents a race or religion that has been targeted.

A recent case involving vandalized buses and vehicles in Lewes brought the question of hate crime legislation into focus. In Delaware, a Justice Department spokesman said, police investigate a matter as a hate crime only when a perpetrator selects a victim because of, among other things, the victim's race, color or religion.

Delaware's hate-crime law actually goes further than many states by including victims who are chosen because of a disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin and ancestry.

Yet, while Delaware's law casts a wide net in an effort to deter hate speech, in practice, the law appears to give free rein to vandals to spray any public place with racist, sexist or other hateful speech. If the vandal is identified, the charge that person faces is the same as for spray-painting hearts. Or flowers.

The act of defacing someone's property with hate speech is intended to wound and instill fear in particular people or groups of people. The victims in this case are not simply the owners of the bus, but the children who have to ride it every day, knowing there are people who were in their community defacing the very vehicle they ride in to school.

Painting racist and sexist slurs on a school bus is not a hate crime under Delaware law.

It should be.

Painting hate speech anywhere should be prosecuted for what it is: an attempt to wound and instill fear in citizens who have a right to live without fear.


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Laura Ritter, news editor, and Dennis Forney, publisher, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.