Enact Federal Hate Crime Laws Now
I’ve been wrestling with the idea of “hate crimes” for a long time now. Am I fer ’em or agin’ ’em? Over the months writing on this and my own blog, I’ve been against them. Thoughtful commenters here have explained their position, which I’ve found helpful. But I haven’t been able to get over the hump, so to speak, of seeing that hate crimes laws aren’t an unfair treatment of some citizens under the law.
This week, with the news of the anti-gay attack in Massachusetts, I’ve gotten over the hump. I’ve had an epiphany. I now fully support hate crimes legislation.
(Republicans call this “flip-flopping”. I call it “changing my mind and coming to a new, better informed, more rational position in the light of new evidence and understanding.”)
I’ve finally come up with the counterpoints to my own arguments against hate crimes legislation, arguments that I, as a straight white man, had formed not with malice against sexual, racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, but simply because of a desire to be fair, apply the law equally, and not succumb to a concept just because it was “politically correct”:
1) “Hate crime” is like “thought crime” in that we’re punishing the person based on their opinions — opinions that are protected under the First Amendment — rather than their actions.
Wrong. Hate crimes punish the perpetrator based on motive and malice of forethought. We have many examples in law where criminals are punished more severely based on their motive — involuntary manslaughter vs. first degree murder, for example. Both crimes are actions where the perp ends the life of the victim, but the former originates from an accident or negligence without motive, where the latter involves premeditation and motive.
2) All crimes of violence are “hate crimes” — you don’t beat or murder someone out of love!
Wrong. The motives for violent crime include motives other than hate. A criminal who beats and hogties a convenience store clerk doesn’t particularly hate the clerk, he’s just being violent to make a buck. A former postal employee who goes back to work with an assault rifle and shoots everyone he sees doesn’t necessarily hate all his former co-workers, he’s just a disgruntled desperate nutcase.
But a hate crime doesn’t target the victim for any other motive except intimidation and extermination of the victim’s perceived group. The motive for the violent acts of this 18-year-old in Massachusetts wasn’t monetary gain or personal animosity; his acts were intended to wipe out a reviled subclass. We treat genocide more severely than garden-variety mass murder; what differentiates this young man’s attempt to wipe homosexuals off the face of the earth from Hitler’s attempt to wipe Jews off the face of the earth are only better planning and the political capital and resources needed to succeed.
3) Hate crime laws mean that blacks, gays, etc. receive more protection under the law than whites, straights, etc.
Wrong. Hate crime laws protect all people from violence and intimidation based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual identity. If I’m attacked in NE Portland by bat-wielding African-American thugs screaming “kill Whitey”, that, too, is a hate crime. If the homosexual mafia lay in ambush for straight males leaving the strip club to give the horny breeders a beatin’, that’s a hate crime too.
Now, it may seem like these laws give more protection to non-white, non-straight people, but that’s only because our country isn’t suffering an epidemic of violent attacks against straight white people for being straight and white. Just because minorities and gays aren’t as cruel to us as we are to them doesn’t make the law unfair.
4) ALL crimes of violence should be severely punished. The punishment should be the same if I hit you for being black as if I hit you for insulting my wife.
Wrong. Well, half-way wrong, anyway. I still believe all crimes of violence should be more severely punished than they are. But we accept that some violent crimes are more severe than others, not the least of which is the lasting effect it has on the victim. Punching you in the nose at a fight in a bar will probably merit me less punishment than running you down with my car. In both cases, my motive may be the same, but your lasting effects will be quite different.
The lasting effect of a hate crime, though, is emotional and psychological, as well as physical; it intimidates and terrorizes people based on immutable characteristics of self identity, and those non-physical harms extend to an entire group of people. If I got mugged in a bad neighborhood, I can choose a safer route. If I got robbed working ata convenience store, I can choose to work elsewhere. If I got smacked because I was rude and obnoxious to the wrong guy, I can choose my words more carefully.
But a victim of a hate crime can’t choose to join the non-hated group. Plus, that applies not just to the victim, but all the members of the victim’s class. All the gay men in New Bedford, Mass. are now terrorized and intimidated, just for existing.
(Come to think of it, that means rape IS a hate crime. A rapist targets a woman solely because she’s a woman, and that rape intimidates and terrorizes all women. No wonder we punish rape more severely than assault, which is technically what a rape is.)
5) Hate crime laws mean I’m going to be punished differently if I hit a black guy than if I hit a white guy.
Wrong. If I hit a white guy because he’s gay, Jewish, or Belgian, I’d be punished for a hate crime. If I hit a black guy because I was pissed at him for cutting me off in traffic, I wouldn’t be punished for a hate crime.
But I wonder… Suppose I’m a mentally deranged straight white guy who thinks he’s really a hot black militant lesbian (I know, imagine…) and I go out targeting straight white guys because I believe straight white guys are the #1 source of evil in the world (which isn’t true; that title belongs to the Bush administration, and they certainly aren’t all guys, all white, or all straight). Would that be a hate crime? I think so.
6) Stronger penalties for hate crimes don’t do anything to deter hate crimes.
So? Stronger penalties for rape haven’t deterred rape. Stronger penalties for first degree murder haven’t deterred first degree murder. Stronger penalties for drug trafficking haven’t deterred drug trafficking.
The punishment for crimes reflect the society’s judgment of the severity of the crime and the fair amount of punishment the criminal should receive, not a formula for preventing crime. And certainly, we, as a society, should consider the intentional, malicious terrorization of a group more seriously than simple personal brutality.
7) Hate crimes mean the law is being applied differently to different victims of the same crime.
Wrong. This is sometimes characterized as “a random attack on a gay person is no different than a random attack on me”. But there is nothing random about a hate crime. Yes, the particular gay person to be bludgeoned may be selected randomly, but there was malice of forethought involved in eliminating any bludgeoning candidates that were not gay. This 18-year-old made the premeditated decision to go kill fags, not the first random people he sees. The crimes are as different as accidentally wrecking into someone’s car because I was talking on the cell phone versus deliberately ramming your ex-wife’s car because you hate the bitch.
8) Anti-gay violence is often directed at people who are straight but perceived to be gay, so the straight kid beat up by the homophobe wouldn’t get the same
protection as the gay kid beat up by the homophobe.
Who says? Again, what’s the intent of the criminal? If he’s out looking to bash queers and beats up a kid he thinks is queer, it doesn’t matter if the kid is queer or not, the criminal is committing a hate crime.
We can direct our representatives to craft these laws any way we want. I’d be all for hate crime laws being applied to violent crimes of bias even if the bias is misdirected.
9) Hate crime laws create special classes of protection for sexual orientation, race, or religion, but not for class, political party, etc.
Who says? If someone begins violently assaulting libertarians just for being libertarians, I’d consider that a hate crime, too. Same goes for a criminal with the goal of murdering the Forbes 100 or a miscreant who attacks interracial couples who adopt Asian babies. Protecting people against bias attacks makes us think first of blacks, Jews, gays, and others simply because historically, they’ve been the primary victims of bias attacks. That doesn’t mean that some future wave of anti-Irish or anti-swinger or anti-real estate millionaire attacks couldn’t also be considered hate crimes.
10) We already have laws in place to punish violent criminals. Creating hate crime statutes just elevates some people above others in the eyes of the law.
Wrong. Creating hate crime statutes addresses a glaring lack of the law’s ability to address terror as a criminal motive. And as I’ve already noted, just because it is currently the blacks, gays, or Muslims being terrorized now doesn’t mean that in the short-term future, as straight white guys like me become more and more the minority in America, that the laws won’t soon be protecting me.
Man, arguing with myself is more fun than I anticipated. You, “Radical” Russ, are a Worthy Opponent! (Apologies to Stephen Colbert.)