Friday, September 14, 2007

Hate crime laws: Are they good for society?

In the past several years, legislation against "hate crimes" has been instituted across the country.

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.
Basically, all crime is a hate crime, because you wouldn't commit acts of violence, assault, arson, etc., against someone you love.

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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  1. "Prosecuting someone for a hate crime in addition to the crime they actually committed strikes me as punishing someone for their thoughts."

    The reason we punish people for hate crimes in addition to the crime they committed is because much more harm is done when it's a mob of people committing the crime, than if the person acted alone.

    If one person hates Jews, he is less likely to act on it, than if he is a member of a group of people who hate Jews. In the group he is encouraged and even aided in committing the crime.

    Criminal laws are written to prevent social harms.

    You can't punish them for being a member of a hate group, that would be punishing them for their thoughts. But when the group commits a crime, acting on their shared hatred toward another, then it's no longer a thought but an act.

  2. It is useful to think of the motivation as an aggravating factor in an act that would already be a crime. The purpose is to deter people who harbor such thoughts from acting on them.

  3. Hate crime legislation is a trmendous distraction during the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses. They are symbolic and meaningless, and represent the politicalization of criminal victimization. That said, they or some further action, is needed to remedy the tremendous social and institutional bias against gays, which often result in bias-motivated crimes of violence against GLBT people.

  4. This thing always gets me. I will read in the newspaper "So and so was charged with a *H A T E C R I M E* in the (killing) of a person."

    Last I checked, isn't killing somebody already a pretty serious crime? And, at sentencing, doesn't the judge take the circumstances into account?

    This all seems quite bizarre to me.

    So, let me get this straight, if a white guy kills a white guy, that's bad, but not nearly so bad as a white guy killing a black guy?


    Seems bad to me either way. Through the book at them Dano

  5. hate crimes put a target on a white males back for criminals, because it is impossible to hate a white male, so if one commits a crime against a white male, it is just a crime, and hate will not be added to the penalty.

  6. Technically speaking, every purse-snatching is a "hate crime," because the victims are obviously selected on account of their gender, and likely their age. Likewise, every white person who's robbed or car-jacked by a black or hispanic, would then be a victim of a "hate crime" because thieves (rightly or wrongly) perceive them as being more likely to have cash, jewelry, or ATM cards, than other blacks or hispanics.

    But when it comes to unfair laws, I'll go you one better than "hate crime" legislation: victim impact statements.

    Let's say that a murderer is apprehended, charged, and convicted of the crime. Before sentencing, the victim's family and friends are commonly allowed to make "victim impact statements," which affect the court's sentencing.

    If a victim has a lot of family and friends who are willing to make spectacles of themselves, cry and moan and express their indignation before the court, the court is more likely to impose a harsher sentence than it would be for some poor SOB who didn't have any family or friends.

    Why is that fair? Is the murder of a person who had lots of friends and family more heinous than the murder of someone who didn't? Is the value of a person's life increased by their multitude of friends and family, or decreased because of their poverty of such?

    Personally, I don't think so, and I feel the same about the murder of law enforcement officers. If someone murders an innocent civilian, the charge is typically "first degree murder," while if someone murders a law enforcement officer (even if it's unknowingly), the charge is typically "capitol felony murder," which carries a much stiffer penalty.

    It's reasonable to presume that civilians choose to remain civilians because they prudently want to keep themselves out of harm's way. On the other hand, people who choose to become law enforcement officers, must surely realize that there's an element of risk involved, and they willingly accept that risk in exchange for the regular salary and benefits they receive.

    To my way of thinking, it's about like comparing a race car driver whose killed in a race, to an average motorist whose killed on his way home from work. Both losses of life are equally tragic, but at very least, the race car driver realized he was doing something unusually dangerous, and he willingly accepted that risk in order to reap its rewards.

    It seems to me that all human lives, and human rights, are equally precious. It shouldn't matter if a victim is a Rockefeller, a Freeman, a Goldman, or Kurowski, one life is just as valuable and irreplaceable as any other, but laws that impose "variable sentences" based on the victim's status, or lack thereof, are basically saying it's more acceptable to victimize certain people, than others.

    I hope I'm not in the minority on this issue, but I think that's wrong.

  7. there are policy reasons behind hate crimes laws.

    With that being said, I am an egalitarian, and I agree that if it can be proven that a group of black gangsters as part of initiation into their gang were told to rape a white woman, then they should be charged not only for the rape of the white woman but for hate crimes, because they were purposefully targeting someone based on the color of her skin.

  8. A DOJ study reports that, in 1996, 20 percent of hate crime perpetrators were black. An example: a white youth murdered by a group of black males for carrying a Confederate flag on his car. It's too simplistic to disregard the factual basis for hate crimes leglislation and attribute it to political correctness. In our world, hate goes in all directions.

  9. I just have to chime in with this. My brother ws convicted of the dumbest crime. The woman who had him charged trumped the whole thing up. This is for the Male on Female crimes.

    He drove his girlfriend(drunk) home from the bar and they got in a verbal fight for hours. The next morning he broke up with her. 2 hours later he ws charged with Ag Sexual Assault and Ag. Kidnapping. She claimed he kidnapped her that night back to their house and sexually assaulted her. They lived together and she would have ended up there if she had driven drunk to her home.

    OK so he did the right thing and was convicted of felony kidnapping even though the kidnapping charges depended on the sexual assault charge. He was found inocent of the sexual assault charge.

    When he went to trial he had passed a Polygraph that was not shown in court. He was never asked to make a statement. He was never asked anything by the prosecution before trial. If he mentioned the Polygraph in court then he would have gotten 6 months plus another trial.

    This is where a conviction for a hate crime is automatic.

  10. Regarding why the murder of a law enforcement officer is held under harsher scrutiny ...

    Yes, Law Enforcement Officers volunteer to do the job, knowing there are risks.

    On that face, if that were all there were, then, no, cop killers shouldn't get harsher sentences.

    However, the murder of a cop doesn't affect only the cop and their immediate family: police are, ostensibly, out there to provide an enforcement and DETERRANT effect against crime.

    When a cop is killed, the community is placed in greater danger, because there is one less person out there protecting them.

    As for hate crimes laws, I have had a number of people, even those with legal backgrounds, try and say that they are a good thing, but I don't get it.

    It is saying that certain people deserve greater protection under the law based on their inherent, in-born, qualities.

    How so? If a greater punishment is levied against a murder/robbery convict because of the race of the victim, then the victim who does NOT have that minority race has less vengeance (and that's all criminal punishment has become, there is little "correction" in it) from the state.

  11. Premeditated crimes are punished more harshly than others for the very reason that the perpetrator THOUGHT about what he was going to do before doing it. I would suggest that if hate-based motivation can be established, that should be no different from premeditation.

    Meanwhile, there are already federal hate-crime laws on the books. Those laws protect people of faith from those who would do them harm based on prejudice against their religious beliefs. Many of those same people oppose the expansion of hate-crime law. I'll have some sympathy when I hear those people call for the elimination of the protections that they themselves currently enjoy.

  12. Anonymous said:

    "When a cop is killed, the community is placed in greater danger, because there is one less person out there protecting them."

    The same could be said anytime a cop retires, or resigns. Should that be a crime?

    What if a cop decides to leave law enforcement because of a particular case in which he was involved? If a defendant is convicted in that case, should he also be charged with the additional crime of "putting the community at greater danger because there is one less person out there protecting them?"

    What if a community votes against a tax increase that would allow additional law enforcement officers to be hired, or perhaps even sustain the troop levels of the existing force? If a police department has to "downsize" due to insufficient funding, should someone be charged with a crime as a result of that?

    Personally, I think that's a weak argument for a "crime."

  13. I am Pat McCollough, also known around campus as, "Coach Pat." Returned to the education industry at Hawthorne Middle/High School and became the victim of a hate crime.

    on 1 Jun 2007, the last day of school, I feel prey to racial discrimination and a victim of hate. This happened on campus during the school day. My classroom was the only one spray painted with hate graffiti.

    One student was identified as a suspect. Why was this student out of class and allowed to just roam around without a pass or without any supervision anyways. This was exam day.

    The administration was passive about the entire situation. They gave me the impression that they mainly looked the incident as a "criminal act" or maybe "just a prank" and had not taken into consideration how the event traumatized me as a human being. They stated that they must have misread me because I was a pillar of strength and so well composed though out the entire situation. Well, Isn't that how professionals are suppose to respond.

    If this type of racial behavior continues and is condoned with little or no consequences to the real criminals, someone could get seriously hurt...remember Jena 6? I wonder if those three nooses hanging on the tree traumatized any of the students or were they provided with any type of professional psychological counseling after having been subjected to such hate. I requested professional psychological counseling and was denied at two different levels. I had to eventually seek professional counseling through other resources outside of the school district.

    It is a known fact there is a current issue with safety and security within the Alachua County School District, Gainesville, Florida.

    I did not return to teaching.


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