Monday, June 29, 2009

Are hate crimes different?

I'm annoyed - but also challenged - by an editorial on hate crimes at The authors write:

A hate crime occurs when an individual intentionally targets a victim or their property because of his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation.

. . .

Our research has established that hate crimes are a qualitatively unique category of offenses. Compared to non-bias motivated crimes these crimes are more likely to involve violence, injury, hospitalization, psychological trauma and a greater risk of retaliatory attacks, which can often spill across municipal borders. And while we cannot say whether hate crimes overall are actually increasing, there does appear to be an increase in the most violent hate crimes.

In 2007, hate-motivated homicides claimed nine lives, up from three in 2006, and the last year has seen a steady stream of violent plots and attacks against symbolic targets by hardened hate-mongers.

. . .

But there is something more to hate crime's harms that cannot be completely captured by statistics or criminological studies. As the Holocaust Museum attack demonstrates, hate crimes threaten pluralistic democracies in a way that other crimes do not.

Unlike many other crimes, they are at once discriminatory and terroristic. As law professor James Weinstein observed: "The effect of Kristallnacht on German Jews was greater than the sum of the damage to buildings and assaults on individual victims."

Violence and threats that destabilize the bonds between citizens and the democratic institutions that they share are worthy of additional punishment and federal assistance. Moreover, victims of hate-motivated violence are entitled to legal protection no matter where they reside.

There's more at the link.

Personally, I have a problem with any so-called 'hate crime' being defined as such. To me, the crime is what's done: assault, murder, robbery, etc. The motivation behind the crime is basically irrelevant. Someone who's been murdered because of his or her race, sexual orientation or gender is no more or less dead than someone who's been murdered in order to steal his or her car!

I believe the punishment should be the same for the crime under all circumstances, regardless of why it was committed. If one punishes one murder more severely than another because of 'hate crime' elements, isn't one basically saying that it was a worse crime than a murder committed for other reasons? How is that possible? Aren't the two victims just as dead as one another? And isn't that demeaning to the victim of the latter crime?

I'd love to hear your opinion about this, readers. Is the presence of 'hate crime' factors a sufficient cause to impose stronger penalties for the same act? Or should all similar crimes be punished alike, regardless of motivation? Please let us hear your views in Comments.



Brad J (Kazrak) said...

Would you say that manslaughter should have the same punishment as first-degree homicide?

After all, the victim is just as dead either way, regardless of whether it was an intentionally-planned murder or as an accidental byproduct of some other act.

The entire difference between the degrees of homicide is, basically, the intentions of the murderer. Additional hate-crime penalties are an extension of this.

Not that I entirely agree with hate-crime legislation, but basing the penalty on the rationale of the crime does have precedent in existing law.

Jim March said...

I'm honestly torn on this one.

I think there IS value when a society comes out against discrimination in any form. It tells the very weak-minded that discrimination isn't cool, and over time (generations, really) discrimination becomes less common. And those who do still practice discrimination "in their heads" are more likely to keep it there.

Ever come across somebody who is a racist, and who for some reason thinks you're a kindred spirit, and becomes much more open about it around you because they think they can finally "share" that ugly crap, until you slap them down? I have, a couple of times.

If you track the amount of racism in the US circa, say, 1920-1960 and then compare it to today, by every possible measurement it's a lot less.

How did that happen? Well, the US banned racism not only by government action, but also banned privately practiced racism in businesses, housing rental/sales, etc. And over time it's obviously working.

The proponents of hate crime legislation are trying to further this process by putting yet more legal constraints on racism and other forms of discrimination. While I can see a lot of potential pitfalls, I do have to recognize that government-level disapproval of discrimination in other forms has already been implemented and is having positive impacts.

So...hmmm...WITHIN STRICT LIMITS, I have to support the concept.

HOWEVER, if somebody (clergy or otherwise) is ever prohibited from saying "God doesn't approve of homosexuality and neither does my church" or words to that effect, it's gone WAY too far and must be curtailed. Ditto any attempt to bar parents from trying to convince their kids not to go gay. A few of the most radical gay-rights activists are trying to go this far, but I don't think they'll succeed. That bears watching though.

Sidenote: I came to these conclusions after having tracked the question "why are there concentrated hot-spots of violence, mostly linked to black communities, across the San Francisco Bay Area?" I learned that most of these pockets were places where blacks were allowed to live to support specific industries that they were allowed to work at, mainly shipping-related and low-end ironworks of various sorts. As those jobs dried up in the 1950s, they weren't allowed to do anything else. The men fled, the women went on welfare and those communities just collapsed due to systemic past (and to a limited extent current) racism.

East Palo Alto was a surprising exception. That used to be the bedroom community for the servant class for Stanford University and the wealthy folks in Palo Alto. First hit in the 1950s was the defection of the business tax base portion to Menlo Park, as the businesses didn't want to be in "darkietown". Second hit wasn't until the 1960s, when black servants all over the place became unfashionable with the new Liberal uprising...who didn't stop to ask "what ELSE are they going to do?" they fired 'em.

The punchline: by the late 1980s the place hit #1 on the per-capita murder rate chart in the whole US. This ghetto with easy freeway access had turned into the cocaine capitol of the area.

Anyways. Yeah, "hate crimes" laws could be taken too far, but the documented positive effects of governmental bans on discrimination cannot be ignored. The steady reduction of discrimination in the US is one of the better trends.

But like South Africa is experiencing to a much greater degree, social pressure cookers can violently boil over when the lid is finally popped. Ending aparteid in South Africa was absolutely necessary but the resulting period of violence is to be expected.

To a lesser degree, that's what's happening in the worst US urban areas. Only the pressure wasn't quite as high here even at peak, and we started popping the lid off in 1954...

Sendarius said...


I think you are confusing intent with motivation .

You are right that manslaughter is treated differently to murder, but the difference is in intent, NOT in motivation.

I don't believe that the law should care WHY you did it, but it is completely reasonable to be concerned with what you INTENDED to do.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe in legislating higher penalties for "hate crimes." As Peter wrote, dead is dead. Could someone's prior statements that they were "gonna get the _____ [insert epithet here]" be considered evidence of premeditation? Sure, as much as if the perpetrator had said "I'm gonna get Brad, that lowdown . . ." But to legislate what is going on inside a person's head?
No. Because who decides what is hateful, and who are the special protected groups? Too slippery and too wrong.

Sevesteen said...

I can support a difference in punishment based on planned, unplanned but intentional, or negligent--that's where we get the difference between murder and manslaughter.

I would support laws that enforce prosecution when the victim is "wrong".

I don't know what to do about stuff like vandalism--A swastika on a synagogue is different than "kilroy was here", but I don't know how to define the difference in a way that doesn't open a huge can of worms.

Billll said...

Hate crimes promotes the notion that while all men are created equal, some are more equal than others. If a citizen is killed, the police will assign a detective, and the crime will be investigated. If a policeman is killed, the whole police department will be on the case, 24/7.
Looking after ones own is all well and good, but this fosters a perception that some of us are less important than others. This gets reinforced when the penalty for a crime against one group is greater or less than the penalty for a crime against another group. This is how it was back in the days of Jim Crow. It was wrong then, and it's wrong now.
Unsurprisingly perhaps is that the party of Jim Crow is now the party advancing disparate penalties for so-called hate crimes.

Wayne Conrad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wayne Conrad said...

Bil^4 nailed it. All people must be equal before the law.

Furthermore, don't think that the law penalizing one for thought will stop at "hate." How long did it take for "terrorism" to expand in scope to include crimes one would never have imagined as such, and a "weapon of mass destruction" to become any weapon not endorsed by the NRA?

Casey said...

I made a similar post at my own blog. Punishing people for what they think is just wrong. If the act is a crime, then it's a crime, it shouldn't get 'enhanced', merely because of the motivations of the criminal.


Stingray said...

Since Sendarius already covered the murder/manslaughter point very handily, all that remains for me to say is that it will be a cold day in Hell before I support the idea of criminalizing certain thoughts and opinions.

...unless we've *always* been at war with Eurasia.

raven said...

Yep- some people are more "equal" than others.

Hate crime laws are just a way to legalize discrimination- do not believe this? Look around and find an example of a minority being charged with a "hate" crime. Bet you won't find many, if any at all.

Rachel said...

When you get right down to it, every crime is a hate crime. At its root is hatred. It may not be something that's easy to define in the secular world, but hatred is still a key component of the crime.

Mikael said...

I'm torn.

While the act is the same, and the offender's motive should not really factor into punishment.

The flipside of the coin is simply that any person who hates a certain group enough to assault/murder them for what they are, they have dehumanized that group in their mind, to them, that group is less than human, which means that when released, they're very likely to do it again. The recidivism is more likely, thus keeping them off the streets longer is prudent, for public safety, not for punishment.

(I also think pedofiles should NEVER get out without a castration(full removal, not just vasectomy) or lobotomy... but that me)

Shell said...

As Casey and Stingray, among others, said or intimated, hate crime = thought police. That is wrong. End of discussion.

Anonymous said...

+1 on no Thought crimes.

Behavior and intent matter.

But if the intent was to kill we have first degree murder, whether the desire to kill was due to despising skin color, or hat color.

Brandon said...

Another "what they said" comment. I don't think motivation is relevant, except as applied to establish intent. I don't think anyone benefits in the long run by the creation of protected classes of people, a concept which I see as discriminatory.