A dominant justification for hate crime laws is that they serve a crucial expressive function—sending messages of valuation to victims, and of denunciation to defendants. Yet, as this Essay will demonstrate, the focus on criminalizing hate—through the enactment of either sentencing enhancements or stand-alone hate crime statutes—has resulted in a thin conception of messaging that fails to recognize the limitations of the criminal law in addressing psychic harm.

This Essay argues that a more robust approach to addressing hate crimes must consider alternatives—beyond incarceration—that would center the trauma associated with hate crimes. This includes restorative justice models that might benefit both victims and defendants. Ultimately, the Essay calls into question conventional assumptions about the expressive function of hate crime laws while demonstrating the importance of a broad, holistic, and interdisciplinary lens, as well as interventions beyond the parameters of criminal law.