Roy Æ Hodges
Department of Sociology, Washington State University
Kristin Cutler, PhD
April 29, 2023
Minor Edits: May 6, 2023; fixed punctuation, duplicated words, and tense in final paragraph.
On June 28, 2022, the St. Louise Catholic Church in Bellevue WA had experienced a disturbance wherein an individual, Maeve J. Nota, a 31-year-old transgender woman, later admitted to and had been charged with having smashed in a door; defaced religious statues including a Virgin Mary; assaulted a church worker; spray painted the side of a man’s face; spray painted “Fuck Catholics”; “woman haters”; “rot in your fake hell”; “abusers”; “kid groomers”; “we hate gay people”; and resisted arrest (Magaña, 2022; Sheppard, 2022; Zymeri, 2023). The charges filed by the State of Washington had been commission of a hate crime and damage to property, along with fourth degree assault (State of Washington vs Nota, 2022). Sources had not explicitly stated racial or ethnic background. US Department of Justice later recommended no jail time and three years’ probation based on a plea deal (Zymeri, 2023). Nota, prevailing context, and the Catholic Church exemplified sociological theories of crime and is a salient examples of social deprivation, relative deprivation, labeling, and classic theories of strain (Merton, 1938).
In Washington State, hate crime’s definition includes defacement of “religious real property with words, symbols, or items that are derogatory to persons of the faith associated with the property” (RCW 9A.36.080.c). Laws had been further strengthened in 2023 to aid in prosecution of hate crimes and requires rehabilitation for offenders in Washington State with the passage of SB 5623 (LeCompte, 2023). These laws revised existing statute elevating hate crimes to perceptually intimidating and demeaning behaviors (e.g., spitting) as grounds for hate crimes (LeCompte, 2023). This had been done by replacing “physical injury” in definitions of hate crime with “assault” (Washington State Democrats, 2023).
Bellevue, WA is an affluent city in King County, WA and is comprised of about a racial composition of 50.2% White, 38.4% Asian alone, 7.7% Hispanic or Latino, 6.3% two or more races, 2.7% Black or African American, 0.3% American Indian and Alaska Native alone, 0.2% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander alone, where of the White demographic, 46.1% White identify as not Hispanic or Latino (US Census Bureau, 2022). Bellevue is also an immigrant diverse community with foreign born persons at 39.9% between 2017–2021. Education in Bellevue is represented at 95.7% completing high school, and 70% having acquired a bachelor’s degree or higher. Median household income (in 2021 dollars) is $140,252, with 6.9% in poverty.
Increases in hate crimes are reported by Catholic organizations and attributed to a response following George Floyd’s death in 2020, and the overruling of Roe v. Wade in 2022 (Zymeri, 2023). Nota had also been reported as being intoxicated at time of arrest (Zymeri, 2023). Research on hate crimes report that violent hate crimes are associated with substance use, are associated with more violence where sexual orientation or gender is targeted, previous positive/friendly interactions with targets, increased offender organizational affiliation where race, ethnicity, or nationality is targeted, and varied planning or spontaneity in hate crime commission (Barkan, 2023, p. 214). Following the COVID-19 Pandemic, hate crimes have increased, though have increased historically during economic/social hardships where targeted groups are scapegoated (p. 213). Nota’s identification as transgender places Nota in a group with outcomes of male-to-female trans women (MTF) enduring significantly lower incomes, higher unemployment, and greater part time work as compared to cisgendered men in the 2015 American Community Survey (Shannon, 2022).
While social psychological theories had been applied to his case due to frustration in freedoms for pro-life individuals having perceived and experiencing a loss of freedom in the turning over of Roe vs. Wade (e.g., psychological reactance theory [Brehm, 1966]), sociological theories may be applied. Historically, social disorganization as a theory had been used to explain deviancy/criminal behaviors through environmental influences of less advantaged neighborhoods (see Barkan, 2023, pp. 134–135). Extreme poverty is reported to have indirect effects of social disorganization which impact social control and said relative deprivation, where direct effects of commissions of violence through frustration, anger, or economic needs (as cited in Barkan, 2023, pp. 135–136). As stated, transgender individuals experience deprivation. Amidst extreme affluence of a Bellevue population in income, wealth, and educational cultural capital, relative deprivation in realizing disparities between one’s own poverty and a cis-gender lack of poverty may partly explain Nota’s increasing arousal leading to behaviors defined as crime.
On the flipside, that Nota’s self-admitted crimes are subject to easier to prosecute criminal codes is itself a demonstration of harsh/rejecting reactions against those perceived as committing hate crimes explained by labeling theory wherein individuals may increasingly identify with and internalize identities and behaviors of deviancy (see Barkan, 2023, pp. 176–180). Polarizing labeling individuals as pro-life, pro-choice, characterizing (i.e., stereotyping) their attitudes, prejudice for/against their beings, and discrimination in legal codes against behaviors once legal, and now legally ambiguous exemplifies social constructions of a “criminal” so labelled. In this situation, labeling theory is reciprocal, pro-lifers labeling pro-choicers, and pro-choicers to pro-lifers—where is the thin edge of the wedge between them—this has happened before in other contexts (see below).
That Washington States’ alteration of code related to hate crime includes requirement for rehabilitation reflects the very concepts of a “growing restorative justice movement” based in facilitating social bonds between offenders and their communities (p. 180). On the topic of legal codes defining criminal behavior (i.e., crime) and what to do about it (i.e., punishment or rehabilitation), it would be prudent to end on Merton’s (1932) strain-anomie theory.
Merton asserted that individuals amidst cultural goals and institutional means may experience a gap between, where salient cultural goals lack institutional means, though the theory takes study to realize its greater reality. Strain is a result of this gap in provisioning of institutional means for cultural goals. In an economic environment promoting less input (i.e., minimal institutional means used) for more output (i.e., maximal goal ends realized), the mere starting conditions and affordances to in-groups have co-constructed polarization with out-groups through a variety of psychosocial phenomena.
While the common view in sociology is that Merton’s theory is centered on strictly on economic phenomena, Merton had been crystal clear in explaining that the exemplar of economics as a sphere was only a matter of convenience (p. 666)—another wedge? To lean on Piagetian cognitive perspectives, economics in strain theory is a primed cognitive prototype of strain, interfering with perceived interchangeability of clustered phenomena that strain as a cognitive schema may apply to. Within Nota’s case, Nota her-self is exemplifying strain adaptation of rebellion wherein new means (i.e., transgender) and new goals (i.e., end of religious/wealth influence of legal restrictions on Nota’s body) are being pursued, in this case through property destruction (i.e., destruction of religious property) and attacks on persons characterizing realized goals (i.e., assault).
In review, Nota’s case is not uncommon, it is a rich salient reality of an increasingly fractured world subject to structures dividing the marginalized from the poor for fears of uprisings against an “opulent” minority (see Alexander’s  New Jim Crow). It is sad and unfortunate that the words pro-life and pro-choice had been chosen by so-called mutually exclusive groups, because in those supporting pro-choice are environmentalists supportive of life, well-being, and health (i.e., the world’s ecologies), and in those supporting pro-life are those supporting ideas of freedom and liberty—stereotypes usurping language has consequences (see Sutherland’s differential association, herein applied to language use itself).
In review, it is as if Merton’s “gap” might very well increase through structural means, where the cultural goals of a minority, are politically, legally, socially, economically, religiously, artistically, aesthetically, journalistically, judicially, and institutionally supported by innovations driven against the earliest known institution in Homo sapiens’ life courses: nature itself. The goal of nurture, and the institution of nature… is strained, and the current model of economics standing in the long shadow of industrialization under the perceived threat of a demographic transition seems to have exacerbated polarization. In reflection, an in-group goal of nurture in structures of industrial economic bent on Social Dominance Orientation is more apt [in characterization], where out-groups experience a remarkable lack of access to in-group institutional means. Until this is solved, I fear there will be more Nota’s and Catholic Churches benefitting a covert arm’s length few, rather than the people many. Thankfully cohorts are replaced, as new generations come, and old generations go—there is hope, but [the cultural goals of] hope misses the mark [in absence of institutional means].
Alexander, M. (2012). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press.
Barkan, S. E. (2023). Criminology: A sociological understanding (8th ed.). Pearson.
Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. Academic Press.
LeCompte, M. (2023, April 7). Inslee signs hate crimes protection bill into law. NBC Right Now. https://www.nbcrightnow.com/news/inslee-signs-hate-crimes-protection-bill-into-law/article_38eccbc6-d54c-11ed-951c-a721616c2a8b.html
Magaña, D. Z. (2022, July 15). Seattle man charged with hate crime after assaulting Asian woman, prosecutors say. Seattle Times. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/law-justice/seattle-man-charged-with-hate-crime-after-assaulting-asian-woman-prosecutors-say/
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Rantz, J. (2023, April 12). Biden DOJ recommends no jail time for Bellevue church vandal. AM 770 KTTH, Bonneville International. https://mynorthwest.com/3874079/no-jail-time-transgender-church-vandalizer-nota/
Shannon, M. (2022). The labour market outcomes of transgender individuals. Labour Economics, 77, 102006. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.labeco.2021.102006
Sheppard, C. (2022, July 1). Bellevue resident charged with hate crime after vandalizing church. Issaquah Reporter, Sound Publishing, Black Press Media. https://www.issaquahreporter.com/news/bellevue-resident-charged-with-hate-crime-after-vandalizing-church/
State of Washington v. Nota (Wa. 2022). https://dja-prd-ecexap1.kingcounty.gov/?q=node/405/3041922/FV-Public-Case-Summary-Portal
US Census Bureau. (2022, July 1). QuickFacts Bellevue City, Washington. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/bellevuecitywashington
Washington State Democrats. (2023, April 6). Dhingra bill strengthening protections against hate crimes signed into law [Blog]. https://senatedemocrats.wa.gov/dhingra/2023/04/06/dhingra-bill-strengthening-protections-against-hate-crimes-signed-into-law/
Zymeri, J. (2023, April 12). DOJ recommends no jail time for trans Catholic church vandal. National Review. https://www.nationalreview.com/news/doj-recommends-no-jail-time-for-trans-catholic-church-vandal/