Exactly what is a hate crime? And are laws against hate crimes a good thing?
Google gave me these definitions of hate crime:
- Crime of aggravated assault, arson, burglary, criminal homicide, motor vehicle theft, robbery, sex offenses, and/or crime involving bodily injury in which the victim was intentionally selected because of the victims' actual or perceived race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability.
- An offense committed against another person, with the specific intent to cause harm to that person due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or culture, etc.
- A hate crime (bias crime), loosely defined, is a crime committed because of the perpetrator's prejudices. This is a controversial political issue within the US. The US Congress (HR 4797 - 1992) defined a hate crime as: "[a crime in which] the defendant's conduct was motivated by hatred, bias, or prejudice, based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity of another individual or group of individuals.
And there are already laws on the books against violence, assault, arson, etc.
Prosecuting someone for a hate crime in addition to the crime they actually committed strikes me as punishing someone for their thoughts. One could argue (not that I'd necessarily believe them) that their thoughts were programmed by their heredity, upbringing or environment. Certainly many people are biased or prejudiced against people of other races, religions, sexual orientations, etc.
In absence of a "real" crime, the "thought" crime isn't illegal. How can a thought (or motivation) become a separate crime only if you act on that thought or motivation?
What purpose do laws against hate crimes serve, that the laws against the crimes themselves don't already provide?
There is the recent horrendous case in West Virginia where six white men and women kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused a black woman. Her captors choked her with a cable cord, stabbed her in the leg while calling her "nigger," poured hot water over her, made her drink from a toilet and beat her, according to the victim's statements. Prosecutors have charged three of the six with kidnapping, which carries a maximum life sentence, and sexual assault, which carries a 35-year maximum. The other three assailants have been charged with assault during the commission of a felony, which carries a 10-year sentence.
Now several West Virginia black churches along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are clamoring for the State to also charge the six with hate crimes, which in West Virginia carry a 10-year sentence.
"The family is aghast and totally devastated by the findings of the Logan prosecutor that this barbaric, heinous, despicable [crime] is not one of racial hatred," said Rev. Emanuel Heyliger of the Ferguson Memorial Baptist Church in Dunbar, West Virginia.
"How can you not charge them with a hate crime and pursue it when it appears to be racially motivated?" asked Bishop Richard Cox, a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "Every black preacher in that city and every concerned, fair-minded white person in that city ought to get together. We need to march and protest."
What purpose would it serve, either for the victim or for society, if the accused were convicted of hate crimes? Even if convicted, the sentence for the hate crime would probably run concurrently with the other sentences, especially in the case of a life sentence. Is the expense of a separate trial worth it? Who benefits? Who is discouraged from committing a similar crime because of the additional penalty?
Since the first time I heard of hate crime legislation, I've been against it. It "favors" a minority group, as if their victimization is somehow worse than it would be to a non-minority. The laws separate rather than unite.
Blacks have rightly demanded for years equal rights; why should they (or any other minority group) get special consideration? No matter the motivation of a criminal, the end result is still a crime, and the victim is no more or less victimized.
Gays and lesbians are now a vocal minority, demanding equal rights regarding marriage, employment, benefits, etc. I support that, just as I support equal rights for blacks, those of a minority religion, those with disabilities, etc.
What I don't support is additional, special consideration because of their minority status when they are the victim of a crime.
What do you think?
Update, Thurs., Sept 27: Democrats have attached hate crime legislation to a massive spending bill for the Iraq War. Pres. Bush had promised to veto any federal hate crime bills, saying that state legislation across the country was sufficiently adequate.
Image: Frankie Brewster and her son Bobby Brewster, charged in the West Virginia case
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