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|The Debate over Hate Crimes Laws
So what the hell is this all about really? Hate crime legislation was origonally drafted in the mid 80's to encourage people from a broad range of personal and professional identities to work cooperatively to identify intergroup conflicts and act to ease tensions. As with any relatively new system of laws there is no opposition, and growing body of opinion is emerging that hate crime laws violate free speech, and that they promote politics based on personal identities rather than politics based on visions of unity.
|Now, we can all agree that crimes motivated by hatred are extremely troubling. However, I have have seen that there may be a problem with the orthodox thinking which seperates out particular crimes from others of a similar type and then defines them as "hate crimes". Other than feeding the concept of group victimization, does such an approach work? Does the perpetuation of a belief that "hate crime" is "special crime" assist the division of people based on ethnic, racial and other identities? I choose to dissent from the "hate crime" orthodoxy.
I believe that answers to the questions raised above are critical to the development of realistic approaches to the worlds obsession with race and identity. The rush to create a whole new category of identity-based crime is but one example of approaches that may not have been as well thought out as we require. Driving the "hate crime" push has been a number of extremly troubling examples of violence and homicide that were admittedly motviated by racism and hatred. Most recently we've seen the killing of James BYrd, in Jasper Texas; the racist rampage of Buford Furrow( which resulted in the death of a postal worker and the wounding of several adults and childrem); and the brutal and fatal beating of Matthew Sheppard. The vast majority of our society, regardless of race or sexual orientation, are outrages by these crimes and have reached a general consensus that - just as with all violent crime - people who commit such acts must be prosecuted and punished. Thankfully, national crime statistics show that hate crime is an extremly small portion of major categories of crime (rape, robbery, aggravated assault, homicide), as well as so-called lesser categories of crime (vandalism, assault). However, the question requiring more discussion and debate is: Should acts motivated by hate be categorized differently from "regular" crimes which are often equally brutal, violent, and traumatize victims as well as community members alike? Secondarily is the question of enhanced punishment. For the sake of intellectual honesty, I believe weshould be asking whether or not enhanced sentencing and punishment deters acts of hate? Fundementally, the question is does hate crime legislation actually work?
As many people are aware, the concept of "hate crime" is reletively new. The murder of a guy named Emmit Till in the 1950's (a black kid who supposedly whistled at a white woman), and in the 1960's, the brutal killing of civil tights workers Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, were simply considered outrageous and horrible atrocities. They were, in other words, horrific crimes. The lynching of black Americans, which occurred following the Reconstruction Period and continued through much of the 1930's and 40's, were never referred to as "hate crimes", though clearly appearing in print in 1989 in an issue of U.S. News and Word reprot. The concept was codified in the groups and allied elected officials, called for the collection of data related to actions newly defined as "hate crime".
The collection of hate crime data may partially serve as a barometer of human relations around the world, and - if used in this fashion - can serve a positive purpose. However it is the response to such data that is suspect. There is no evidence that would cause anyone to authoritvely assert that "enhanced sentences", hate crime "awareness training", or "hate crime curriculum" in schools act as an effective deterrence to acts of bias, let alone organized or individual hate violence. Simply asserting that these things work does not make it a fact! Further, the consideration of punishment is largely nonexistent among organized hate groups, and "gay bashers" or un-organized bigots who driven by stupidity and passion of the moment - and likewise un-deterred by hate crime laws. Intergroup street gang violence is also largely unaffected by hate crime statutes. Imagine, if you could, a hard corestreet thug stopping to consider how much time he'll get if he pulls the trigger to avenge the death of his homeboy. The call for even harsher punishment and ever-expanding legislation, which comes from liberal, left and "progressive" leaders, is curious at best. Some of the same leaders and groups, who have vehementlly opposed "three strikes" laws and various "get tough on crime" measures, and stand at the forefront of efforts to abolish the death penalty, simultaneouslyargue that somehow, miraculously, tougher policies and enhanced sentences for those who commit "hat crimes" will result in a deterrence of this kind of criminal behaviour.
However, it is in the realm of racial politics surrounding hate crime that gives me the best reason for thought. There is an overriding perception that hate crime is something done by whites to minority groups. And, to be fair, the stench of racists and other white supremacist formations, hangs thick over many acts of hate. This cannot be diminished. But why the reluctance to call similar acts commited against whites "hate crime". Search as you may, you are hard pressed to find the term "hat crime" applied to Collin Ferguson's fatal rampage on the Long Island Railroad in America, nor was the term used when a gan of young thugs gang raped and brutally beat a white female motorist here in Australia. Because these acts (among others) were commited by "people of colour" there wa, and is currently, a distinct fear of defining such crimes against whites as acts of racial hate. Even white liberals all too willingly but into the notion that only whites can be racists. The rise of intergroup violence between many different races other than white that live in the smae country has also caused a great deal of anguish among many advocates of hate crime laws. There has been a great deal of reluctance among left of centre political froces to identify conflict of violence between "people of colour"as acts of racial hate because hate crime legislation is often viewed - illogically in my view - as a logical extension of the fight against white racism.
Some argue that "hate crime" laws have little or no discernable impact on alot of constitution issues. I don't think so people. Flowing directly from the increasing intrusion of hate crime legislation has been a tendency to enact speech codes on college grounds and codes of personal conduct in the workplace. Saying the "wrong thing" can bring severe sanctions or ejection from a university campus, or cause one to be fired from their job. It has rarely beeen actual conduct that causes the difficulty. we can all agree that the punishment of conduct has been found constitutional by various courts. However, more frequently it has been speech, not connected to conduct, that has caused punishment. For instance, university speech codes have attempted to regulate student expression, personal discussions, jokes and comments in class - including topics covered by proffessors. And while many of these speech codes have been successfully challenged, they have nonetheless chilled the academic climate and perhapes deepened the nation's racial divisions.
A basic component of hate crime is the belief that all crime is not equal, that crime motivated by racial or other bias is worse than other crimes which may not have a motive based on some particular bias. there is also a belief that hate crimes terrorize entire communites, and make people fearful, even those who may not even know the victim. But that's certainly true of all violent crime. Don't women lock their doors and wimdows more securely following a rapein their naeighborhood? and for that matter, the spouses? Does a date rape not cause a woman to be earful of mean? Are community people not terrorized as a result of a gang shooting, a drive-by incident, or a homicde in their neighborhood? I wish to suggest with this article that breaking criminal law into new crimes with a heirachy of punishment, which depends on the prejudices of criminals and the identities of victims exacerbates rather than lessening societyal conflicts and tensions. "Hate crime" allows crime to be yet another arena for intergroup conflict. Additionally such laws and public policy actually reinforces the politcs of identity by supporting the proposition that each group's victimization at the hands of other identity groups is worsening, something contradicted by the facts. It is my view that now is the time to rethink our approach to what's called "hate crime".