From the Washington Post:
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.
Except hate crime legislation doesn’t actually penalize hateful thoughts. But this sort of rhetoric is a good example of the wild exaggeration made by people in the majority when they feel their privilege begin to slip. It’s another flawed Free Speech! argument.
This argument demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding about the law in general. Intent and motive are regularly considered in sentencing. Accidentally run over somebody with your car? Not first-degree murder, probably manslaughter. Pay somebody else to kill your partner? Probably murder one, even if you never touched the weapon.
The prosecutor in a hate crime trial needs to prove intent beyond a reasonable doubt. Often even the use of racial slurs has not been enough to convince the court. So undoubtedly crimes are committed regularly where hate crime enhancements could not be applied, simply because the proof did not exist. (Or the proof did not convince the important somebodies who needed to be convinced, but whatever.) Criminals can think all the hateful thoughts they wish. They may even act on these thoughts. But it is the combination of criminal action and provable intent that is addressed by our legal system.
Additionally, hate crime laws do not value any group of people over another. It is not the victim’s status that is protected. You might be a straight white guy, but if you get the crap beaten out of you because your attacker thinks you’re gay, hate crime enhancements can be added.
In any event, the status of the victim is often a consideration in sentencing as well. (Police officers come to mind.) Studies of differential sentencing would also suggest there is definitely a protected class of victim, and it isn’t people of color.
Hate crimes are a form of domestic terrorism directed at specific communities. The message is clear: We don’t want your kind.
Since one of the functions of privilege is the feeling of being wanted everywhere, it’s undoubtedly hard for people in the majority to empathize with other groups. In fact, they empathize with the majority to the exclusion of any conception of humanity among the minority. Luis Ramirez wasn’t supposed to be in Shenandoah. But his killers were good kids. And if he weren’t an illegal, he wouldn’t be dead now, would he? So they weren’t charged with murder. They were convicted of simple assault.
They did six months.
Luis Ramirez is still dead.
This is why I am not nostalgic about the good old days. Because in the good old days, there wouldn’t have been a trial at all. And in the good old days, federal hate crime charges would not have been brought.
But they were. Is this justice? Luis Ramirez is still dead.
The Schuylkill County trial said that his life was not worth much of anything. The federal trial? We will have to wait for sentencing. But none of this is about Piekarsky’s and Donchak’s thoughts.
It is about valuing a life. And making our message clear: This is our America.