‘Hate-crime laws turn thoughts into crimes’

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.

6 thoughts on “‘Hate-crime laws turn thoughts into crimes’

  1. Pingback: links for 2010-10-20 | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  2. Yeah, it’s a screwed up thought process. How unfair that a criminal might have additional time tacked on for terrorizing a community. Because it’s just not right. Why, it’s almost as bad as kicking and beating a man to death!

    Same school of thought where it’s more outrageous to be called a racist than to do racist things.

  3. (From Shakesville)

    Also, IANAL, but we do in fact consider intent in sentencing–for example, premeditated murder gets a stiffer sentence than non-premeditated murder or manslaughter, even though the effect of the crime is the same. The same is true of hate crimes, I think–generally, they mean that crimes like assault, harassment or murder are sentenced more severely in cases where bias is a motive– and I think the fact that hate crimes are in essence terrorism (as you pointed out) is one reason that they should be punished more severely than ordinary crimes.

    Also, hate crimes don’t actually create a protected class, as I understand them–its not black people, its racial motivated crimes, for example. So if someone beats me up because I’m white that would be a hate crime. If someone beats me up because they think I’m Hispanic (I’m not) that’s also a hate crime. So technically anyone could be a victim of a hate crime, its just a lot less likely for some people.

  4. Excellent response, excellent comments. Un-freaking-believable that somebody could get that kind of nonsense published in a mainstream publication.

  5. This is a such a great post. Thank you for laying it out so well–I have heard this argument before and haven’t been able to respond with much besides “Are you f-ing kidding me?”

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