James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hate Crimes

Fr. Jim Tucker opposes the concept of hate crimes.

I'd like to agree, but actually, I'm not all that opposed to them. Yes, there are problems with the concept. I think a lot of hate crime legislation is the product of grandstanding, and maybe there's really no need for them. But I do see at least a theoretical basis for them.

The problem people see in hate crimes is that the intent is punished along with the action. But in our country we have - or ought to have - freedom of thought and expression. Therefore, we shouldn't have hate crimes.

Here's another perspective:

Most victims of crime seem to be of two varieties. The first is random targets of a random group, such as the man OR woman of ANY race who gets mugged. The second is a specific target of a random group (murdering a cheating lover because he/she cheats, not because of his/her gender, race, religion, nationality, etc).

Hate crimes involve more or less random targets of a SPECIFIC group. Especially in cases where the perpetrator strikes several times before getting caught, the effect is to terrorize a specific group of people in society. This may have the effect of an "ethnic cleansing" of a particular neighborhood, as members of the targeted group flee to safer, friendlier places. Such social dislocation brought about by violence is something the State, if we are to have the State, has a right to prevent.

In addition, the matter of intent is the basis of all criminal prosecution. It's the difference between first degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, between fraud and a simple misunderstanding.

Matters of socio-political intent are also taken into account. The disgruntled gunman who goes on a shooting spree and the pyromaniac arsonist are distinguished from the terrorist and insurrectionist, though their actions may be identical. And like terrorism and insurrection, "hate crimes" heighten social tensions and provoke disintegration in ways that "normal" criminality does not.

Another point worth mentioning, though not related to Tucker's post: I grant that hate crimes have conceptual difficulties, particularly when considering isolated instances of inter-racial (or inter-whatever) crime. Still, they are far more justified in the interests of civil peace, then, say, "civil rights" laws.

Haven't we all seen and heard many a conservative of the Limbaugh ilk criticize hate crime laws for all the usual reasons. But then they proclaim loudly that more Republicans than Democrats passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, implying that the GOP is less racist.

In their world, it is okay to punish "intent" when otherwise no crime takes place. You have the right to peacefully and quietly refuse anyone a job, or service, for any reason on your own property - unless you do so because of your bigoted beliefs. And if you refuse to associate with certain people because of their race, religion, or gender, then the whole force of federal law ought to come down on you. But if you kill someone because of your bigoted beliefs, well, we can't punish the "intent" too - that violates freedom of speech!

I understand the pro-civil rights, pro-hate crime law position. I understand the anti-civil rights, anti-hate crime position. And, theoretically at least, I myself am anti-civil rights, pro-hate crime.

But I don't understand the pro-civil rights, anti-hate crime position at all.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:04 AM PDT

    Does there have to be a specific "Hate Crimes Law"? I think it would be less arbitrary if the judge were allowed to execise his own discretion when sentencing.