Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is heading into its 20th season this fall, tying the original mothership's 20 seasons on air. Now, the ripped-from-the-headlines drama is adding a new version: Law & Order: Hate Crimes, which will be ripped-from-the-viral-videos.
Yes, executive producer Dick Wolf, who has been making sure Chicago has its share of dramas, has created another extension of the tried-and-true format for NBC later in the season. Wolf said, "As with all of my crime shows, I want to depict what’s really going on in our cities and shine a light on the wide-ranging victims and show that justice can prevail. Twenty years ago when ‘SVU’ began, very few people felt comfortable coming forward and reporting these crimes, but when you bring the stories into people’s living rooms - with characters as empathetic as Olivia Benson - a real dialogue can begin. That’s what I hope we can do with this new show in a world where hate crimes have reached an egregious level."
Here's how NBC describes the show:
“Law & Order: Hate Crimes” is set in New York City, where crimes motivated by discrimination are vigorously investigated by an elite, specially trained team of investigators. Going behind the headlines and viral videos, these diverse, dedicated and passionate detectives will stop at nothing to bring these criminals to justice...
Co-created with former “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” showrunner Warren Leight, the latest installment of the enduring and wildly popular “Law & Order” franchise is based on New York’s actual Hate Crimes Task Force, the second oldest bias-based task force in the U.S. The unit, which pledges to uphold a zero tolerance policy against discrimination of any kind, works under the NYPD's real Special Victims Unit and often borrows SVU’s detectives to assist in their investigations. The first incarnation of this new unit will be introduced in the latter part of the upcoming 20th season of “SVU.”...
“I’m extremely impressed by the actual men and women investigating these cases in a city as complicated and diverse as New York,” Leight said. “The work they are doing puts them on the front lines in a battle for the soul of our city and nation. I’m thrilled about the chance to reunite with Dick and NBC to portray the reality of this crisis.”
NBC Entertainment's co-president of scripted programming, Lisa Katz, also called the spin-off "extremely timely," noting, "Considering that last year there was a double-digit rise in hate crimes in our 10 largest cities — the highest total in over a decade — it seemed like this topic is begging to be explored."
The NYPD's Hate Crime brochure explains (PDF) that it uses the New York State Penal Law as a guideline for hate crimes: "A bias incident is any offense or unlawful act that is motivated in whole or substantial part by a person’s, a group’s or a place’s identification with a particular race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, ancestry, national origin or sexual orientation (including gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender) as determined by the Commanding Officer of the Hate Crime Task Force.”
As for freedom of speech vs. a hate crime, the NYPD says:
Freedom of speech is protected by our constitution. Anyone has the right to express their likes, dislikes and opinions, no matter how offensive it may be to others. This freedom of expression however, can cause some confusion as to where free speech ends and a hate crime begins. Although the line may appear to be blurred, ultimately… offensive or hateful speech is still just speech and is protected. However, a hate crime is a criminal act that is motivated in whole or substantial part by the perceived identify of the victim. For example, a person who calls another person an insulting name… it is just a name and not a crime. Although you may feel the name is hateful and offensive… it is considered freedom of speech. However, if someone calls a person a hateful name because of their race alone… and then assaults them, it then becomes a hate crime.
Reported hate crimes have continued to rise in NYC since 2016, according to the NYPD. But experts believe that only a fraction of hate crimes are being reported.
Frank Pezzella, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who studies hate crimes, told ProPublica in late 2016, "The scale of that is almost scary. The same people that these laws are designed to protect are the ones with the most strained relationships with the police — blacks, LGBT people, undocumented aliens.”