Hate Crimes

October 20th, 2010

By Tom Carter

I’ve always believed that hate crimes laws have no place in the American legal system.  They punish people for what they think, say, and write and for their associations with others who agree with them.  With rare exceptions, those are all protected by the Constitution.  Moreover, hate crimes laws create a hierarchy of victims — for example, it’s more serious to assault or murder a person of a certain race or sexual orientation than to assault or murder anyone else.  And is the assault more painful or the death more final if the victim is a member of some favored group?

Now comes Richard Cohen, the Washington Post columnist, with “Hate-crime laws turn thoughts into crimes.”  It’s a well-written, thoughtful piece that does an excellent job of stating the case against hate crimes laws.

A few excerpts:

Almost as bad as hate crimes themselves is the designation. It is a little piece of totalitarian nonsense, a way for prosecutors to punish miscreants for their thoughts or speech, both of which used to be protected by the Constitution (I am an originalist in this regard). It is not the criminal act alone that matters anymore but the belief that might have triggered the act. For this, you can get an extra five years or so in the clink. …

Hate-crime laws combine the touching conservative belief in the unerring efficacy of deterrence (which rises to its absurd and hideous apogee with executions) with the liberal belief that when it comes to particular groups, basic rights may be suspended. Thus we get affirmative action in which certain people are advantaged at the expense of other people based entirely on race or ethnicity. This tender feeling toward minorities must account for why civil liberties groups have remained so appallingly silent about hate-crimes legislation. …

On Long Island, some goons felt a solemn obligation to rid the area of Hispanics. Hate, pure and simple. But one of the perpetrators had black and Hispanic friends — and a swastika tattooed on his leg. Was he racist or, as his father maintained, just a dumb kid? Did he really hate Hispanics or just Hispanic immigrants and, anyway, what did it matter? Their victim was dead — the ultimate crime. Should his killers get life for his death — and another five years for what they thought of him?

I’ll grant that those who favor hate crimes laws have good intentions, but they’re misguided.  To put it simply, we should enforce laws against criminal behavior consistently without regard to the race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or any other distinguishing characteristic of the perpetrator or the victim.  The law must treat everyone as an individual; fairness and constitutional principles demand nothing less.

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6 Responses to “Hate Crimes”

  1. d |

    I agree,with the exception,if I were in charge,scarythought,crimes against children would be the only crimes to be punished more severely. Therein,lies the problem, whichever crime you think is worse,is the one you want to be treated special.So,I am definitely,against calling crimes against Gays or ethnicities alone,hate crimes. Really,aren’t all crimes hate crimes?

  2. Dan Miller |

    Many crimes are the result of hate but have nothing to do with the race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other protected status of the victim. Were I to kill someone because he told lies about me, or because he raped my daughter, hate would surely be a factor. However, the crime would be simply a species of homicide — perhaps mitigated to some extent as a crime of passion rather than premeditation. On the other hand, were I to commit the identical crime because of hatred for my protected-status victim, the crime could thereby fall into an aggravated hate crime category. Conceivably, it could even do so were it the result of his conduct described in the first example.

    This strikes me as silly or worse, as do other elevations of members of various protected groups to a status higher than others. What happened to the basic principle that we are all equal before the law?

  3. Tom Carter |

    Absolutely right, Dan. Not only are we all supposed to be “equal before the law,” we supposedly have the right to say, think, read, and believe whatever we want, even if it’s absurd. Hate crimes laws criminalize what are otherwise guaranteed rights.

    For example, I can say that I hate _____ people and they shouldn’t be allowed to live in my neighborhood. I can also agree with my friends that the homes of _____ people should be burned to discourage them from living in the neighborhood. Assuming I or one of my friends takes no action in furtherance of that suggestion, there’s no crime (including conspiracy).

    If, however, I and my friends actually burn a house belonging to a ______ person and someone dies in the fire, then we’re guilty of murder, arson, and conspiracy (in whatever degrees and categories).

    In the first case, saying it is protected speech. In the second case, saying it becomes an additional crime subject to additional penalties.

    Note that if I and my friends are white and the objects of our hate are, say, black or gay, then it’s a special kind of crime. If, on the other hand, I and my friends are, say, black and the objects of our hate are white, then it’s just a normal crime.

    None of this makes any sense.

  4. Brian |

    The other side of this silly coin is that if there are hate crimes, surely there must necessarily be love crimes as well.

  5. Tom Carter |

    Great point, Brian. Further underscores the point of how ridiculous the concept is.

    What makes it even worse is that technically, crimes against people who are not normally considered to be in a protected class could be charged as hate crimes but they rarely are. Just more of the kind of discrimination that really exists today.

  6. d |

    There are love crimes,Brian. When someone gets murdered by their spouse while they are comitting adultery,it was out of love,and a sprinkling of hate. Maybe those guys should get off,because it was a love crime. If hate crimes are the worse,then love crimes must be the best and,therefore,not prosecutable. Just kidding,don’t go crazy on me. 🙂 Treatment of premedated murder,of any kind,should be equal and just,no matter what race you are,or sexual preference you have.

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