|If you believe your rights under the MCRA have been violated, call the AGO’s special hotline at 1-800-994-3228 or file a civil rights complaint online. You should also contact your local police department immediately if you feel you have been a victim of a hate crime.|
Protecting the basic civil rights of residents and visitors to Massachusetts is an important responsibility of the Attorney General’s Office. Along with the impact on individual victims, hate crimes and other bias-motivated acts inflict unique harms on our communities.
This webpage outlines some of your civil rights under Massachusetts law. These rights are at the heart of our safety, well-being, and freedom. If you believe that your rights have been violated, or if you need further information, please contact our Civil Rights Division.
Hate crimes are traditional crimes that are motivated by the offender’s bias toward the victim because the victim is a member of a protected group.
Under the primary Massachusetts hate crime statute, M.G.L c. 265, § 39, there are three elements of hate crimes:
- Underlying Criminal Offense: The offender committed an assault or a battery upon the victim or damaged the victim’s property.
- Offender’s Intent: The offender acted with the intent to intimidate the victim.
- Victim’s Protected Characteristic: The offender targeted the victim because of the victim’s race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Suspected violations of this law should be reported to the police in the first instance. Violations of this law are criminal and the offenders ordinarily are prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office. However, in some cases, the offender may also be prosecuted civilly, either in addition to criminal charges or instead of criminal charges, under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.
Other Bias-Motivated Conduct
The Massachusetts Civil Rights Act
The AGO enforces the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act ("MCRA"), M.G.L. c. 12, §§ 11H, 11I, 11J, which protects the rights of all residents and visitors to Massachusetts to be free from bias-motivated threats, intimidation, and coercion that interfere with their civil rights. The MCRA protects the right to use public parks and transportation, walk on public streets, attend school, live peacefully, and enjoy other basic rights.
The AGO prosecutes civilly violations of the MCRA that have three basic elements:
- Underlying Conduct: The perpetrator engaged in threats, intimidation, or coercion.
- Interference With Civil Rights: The perpetrator used threats, intimidation, or coercion to interfere, or attempt to interfere, with the victim’s secured civil rights.
- Bias Motivation: The perpetrator’s conduct was motivated by bias against the victim because of the victim’s membership in a protected group or protected activity.
It is important to know that hateful and offensive speech or symbols, standing alone, do not necessarily violate the law. Rather, the law prohibits certain kinds of physical or verbal conduct. A “threat” occurs when the perpetrator does or says things with the intent to make another person fearful or apprehensive of injury or harm. “Intimidation” occurs when the perpetrator intentionally puts another person in fear for the purpose of compelling or deterring conduct by that person. “Coercion” occurs when the perpetrator uses force, either physical or moral, to compel another person to do something against his/her will that he/she would not otherwise have done.
Under the MCRA, the Attorney General may obtain an injunction, compensatory damages for the victim, and in some cases, civil penalties, against a perpetrator who threatens, intimidates, or coerces another person on the basis of that person’s membership in a protected group (e.g., race, national origin, religion, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability) or protected activity (e.g., exercising the right to vote or the right to associate).
Civil Rights Injunction
An injunction is a court order that prohibits a perpetrator from taking certain actions. A civil rights injunction typically will order protection for a victim and prohibit the perpetrator from engaging in further acts of threats, intimidation, or coercion. A violation of a civil rights injunction typically is a criminal offense and can subject a defendant to fines of up to $10,000, and up to two and a half years in a house of correction or, if bodily injury results, to up to 10 years in state prison.
Damages & Civil Penalties
Compensatory damages are a sum of money that a court awards to a victim to compensate the victim for injury or other losses, including emotional distress, incurred as a result of the perpetrator’s unlawful conduct. A civil penalty is a financial penalty imposed as punishment for certain kinds of wrongdoing. A court may award civil penalties in an MCRA case involving the interference or attempted interference with any constitutionally protected right.
A number of state and federal laws also protect individuals against discrimination and harassment in housing, employment, and places of public accommodation, among other things. We encourage you to learn more about the Attorney General’s role in protecting civil rights more generally.
If You Are a Victim
If you believe your rights under the MCRA have been violated, call the AGO’s special hotline at 1-800-994-3228 or file a civil rights complaint online. You should also contact your local police department immediately if you feel you have been a victim of a hate crime.