Pondering Hate Crimes and Hate-Crime Laws

Apparently there’s something afoot in the House that has brought this back into national focus. Reading about it, I wandered across a blog post in Orcinus from 2005 January (!). I have to say, for the first time in many years, it gave me something to think about on this issue. I have always been rather cool to the whole idea. I think I agree with Danny Concannon: A crime’s a crime and no murder is any worse or any better than another. But I’ll admit that Orcinus’ argument from mense rea is compelling. Moreover, I hadn’t even viewed hate crimes through the prism that they are crimes against the community as well as against an individual. Put a different way: The purpose of a murder is to kill someone. The purpose of a lynching is to divide a community against itself, to undermine the very idea of the community — in short, to attack society in toto. That’s certainly a different crime and, conceivably, a worse one.

I still think I come down against hate crime laws. Once you begin criminalizing what someone is thinking, we start down a very dark and dangerous road, and I’m not sure we come out the other side. But for the first time in a long while, I have something new to chew over. I’m not as sure as I was yesterday.

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2 Responses to Pondering Hate Crimes and Hate-Crime Laws

  1. A couple things….

    First, committing a crime against somebody is not automatically the same as a lynching.

    Second, if you do something like that for the purpose of terrorizing a community, there’s already a crime on the books for that. It’s called “terrorism”.

    Thirdly, the root of the issue is the difference between “intent” and “motive”. We have always had crimes where intent comes into play — it’s the difference between, say, “Murder in the First Degree” and “Manslaughter” (or for that matter, “tragic accident”).

    *Motive* on the other hand, has never been the basis for calling something a crime. It can have an evidentiary purpose in showing guilt, but ultimately _why_ you (for example) kill someone (for their wallet or their race) doesn’t change the fact of the crime: murder. The intent to kill is what makes the crime.

    In other words, we have always punished the Act, not the thoughts accompanying it.

  2. mongrelpuppy says:

    As for whether there should be increased penalties for people’s intentions, I agree with you. But the bill also provides extra funding for investigating hate crimes.

    When a hate crime occurs, it does not just affect the surrounding community. It affects every member of the victim’s group all over the country for years to come. This cannot be overstated. As a Jew, whenever I hear about anything from the bombing of a synagogue to the attempted pogrom at Crown Heights 1991, I tend to feel unsafe. There have been times where I have wanted to flee to Canada or felt a sense of unbelonging. My mother sometimes has nightmares about a Holocaust occurring in the United States.

    Is that rational? Of course not. I admit that such disproportionate feelings might be considered borderline insane. But human nature is not rational, and this is how members of any minority group feel when a hate crime is committed.

    Clearly then a hate crime is not just a physical attack against the victim, but an emotional attack against the whole group. As such, more resources should be put into investigating such crimes than simple murders.