Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hate Crimes

Seems hate crimes are down, on a consistent decline; certainly, that’s good news (trib article). The actual statistics from the FBI are here. In short:

55.7 percent of the victims were targeted because of a bias against a race.
16.0 percent were victimized because of a bias against a religious belief.
14.0 percent were victimized because of a bias against an ethnicity/national origin.
13.8 percent were targeted because of a bias against a particular sexual orientation.
0.6 percent were targeted because of a bias against a disability.

Seems sexual orientation is disproportionately represented, but they are all going down in frequency.

Last year a hate crime law was passed by our legislature, to a large part with the help of the local gay community. I may get some flack for this, but I was not among them.

Frankly, I find most the arguments against hate crime laws to be obtuse, maybe purposefully so.

1. It’s punishing thought. You bet it is, specifically intent and motive. Once a crime has been committed we punish thought all the time. It’s very important in deciding an appropriate punishment and the likelihood of a repeat offence.

Say a woman hits and kills a man with her car. The thoughts of the woman on that incident can mean the difference between a couple years for manslaughter or the death penalty or life in prison for premeditated aggravated murder. For another example, consider libel in the US. One requirement of being punished for spreading lies regarding another is that you know they are lies. You’re punished or not for your thoughts, not the bare action, and rightly so, right?

2. Hate crime laws give special rights to minorities. This has got to be the worst of them. You don’t have characteristics in the areas of race, sex, sexual orientation (no, not sexual behavior), religion, and so on? The laws say if you attack someone for their characteristics in such areas, which we all have, then extra punishment is given. Black men have been charged for attacking caucasians and rightly so, and if a gay woman attacked a straight man for being straight, then the hate crime laws apply too.

Actually, according to those FBI numbers (specifically here), in 2005, 18 were victims of anti-heterosexual hate crimes, and 975 were victims are anti-white hate crimes. So they are, as they should be, being prosecuted.

3. All crimes are hate crimes. Well, not really. I can steal from you and beat you to a pulp in the process and not feel one lick of hate or anger towards you, just love of money and a wish to get away. Still, that’s not the point. This argument is simply disagreeing with an inaccurate name chosen for PC reasons. Maybe a better name would be “Bias Crime”?

But despite all that, I don’t actively support hate crime laws.

The best argument for them is that the crime is one that purposefully affects a whole group of people, not just the victim. And that’s true. When I hear of a gay man getting assaulted in my town for merely being gay, a characteristic I share, it limits the way we can live without expecting assault. For months, I don’t feel I can grab my husband’s hand in public and worry a great deal when we’re outed with our kids there. It puts us on edge and harms us too. It also harms the entire community, psychologically, politically, economically (in the area of tourism, for example), and makes us clannish.

But what of when a person simply gets mugged for money? Doesn’t that similarly affect a group, the group that appears to have any money? It’s a large group, sure, and the harm done to them individually is lessened by that fact, but, in sum, I’d say it does near the same harm. People have to change their lives when they hear of such a crime.

The biggest difference is in the possible intent to threaten others, which your everyday mugger is likely not to have. To threaten is a crime and rightly so if done to an individual. But is that enough?

Honestly, I’m on the fence here. I’ll not lobby for these laws and I won’t cheer if they pass, nor will I be upset.

What I want to know is if I’m missing something? Is there a reason to lobby for hate crime laws I’m not seeing, or a stronger reason to oppose them? Or maybe I’m perfect, as is… ;-)

1 comment:

santorio said...

i don't think you have to go beyond your first point: society has always taken intent/thought into account.

the first commandment--taking the lords name in vain--is a case in point. royalty was the next to get special protection, and with democratization, this 'right' has been extended. can it go too far? i suppose so--perhaps you implied example of the mugger who gets a longer sentence because he said, "i hate you rich guys" before grabbing the victim's wallet.

like so many civil rights, there has to be a balance.
for example, balancing free speech with laws against hate speech. society may accept the latter when applied to muslim clerics but not against expressed views of political opponents.

a soon to be published church-sponsored book will reportedly exonerate brigham young of complicity in the mountain meadows massacre. granted, he didn't physically order it. but many of his speeches against the enemies of the church were full of hateful language that may have been one trigger in that awful event.

if hate crimes are a social reminder that what we say and think is as important as what we do, then i'm all for them.