Drink your haterade
Should the legal ‘hate crime’ classification exist?
By Sarah Sidlow
Eyes on Chicago, where four young black men and women kidnapped, bound, beat, humiliated, and threatened to kill a mentally disabled teen—and filmed it for Facebook. The victim is white; he’s 18-years-old and suffers from schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.
Prosecutors said the victim, who was found by the police on Tuesday, was targeted based on his race and his disability—aka, this was a hate crime.
According to a Justice Bureau report based on Census Bureau surveys, people with disabilities—particularly mental disabilities—are more than twice as likely to be the victims of violent crimes as those without disabilities.
But in many states, people with disabilities are not identified as a protected group (reminder: a protected group denotes a group of people qualified for special protection by a law, policy, or similar authority). In fact, 46 states have hate crimes laws in effect, according to the Anti-Defamation League, but 17 of them do not expressly protect people with disabilities.
Remind me: what’s a hate crime? The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” It’s important to note that hate itself, however, is not a crime (hellooo free speech), but hateful acts can definitely be punished.
Which leads people to ask, “Why do hate crimes exist?” Someone killed because of their race, for example, isn’t any less dead than someone killed at random. Their families are still left with an irreplaceable void; their workplaces are still left with an empty desk; and the murder is still punished.
Moreover, some argue, we already have a legal system in which malicious intent (“the intent, without just cause or reason, to commit a wrongful act that will result in harm to another”) is punished more severely than something like accidental manslaughter; and the victim doesn’t need to fall into a specific protected group for the charge to apply.
And then there’s the question of subjectivity, which often rears its head when humans do, well, anything. Who, exactly, gets to determine that a person’s actions were motivated by their victim’s race, sexual orientation, or disability?
Yet, for others, a separate classification for hate crimes is vitally important. The FBI, for example, argues it’s a matter of terrorism—because the groups that preach hate and intolerance can also encourage hateful and intolerant action. In fact, the hate crime classification was born out of the existence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan and other race-based terror organizations, which were targeting and destabilizing very specific communities. The idea is that when, for example, a mentally disabled teen is threatened because of his disability, the intended result is to send a message to the entire community of mentally disabled people.
There’s also a distinct difference between federal and state hate crime laws. The state laws are considered “sentencing enhancements,” which means someone who was convicted of something like intimidation can have additional punishment tacked on if the victim belonged to a protected group. By contrast, the federal law makes it a separate and distinct crime to target someone based on his or her protected category. Some argue this is a way for the Feds to reexamine a person’s sentence if they believe the local justice system didn’t do enough.
ProPublica, an independent nonprofit investigative newsroom, has set a New Year’s resolution to track and report hate crimes in 2017, because, as it turns out, a lot of them go unreported.
Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Debate forum Question of the Week:
Should government’s classification of a ‘hate crime’ exist?
Punish the haters
Special attention for hate-motivated crimes is necessary for protection
By Ben Tomkins
The concept of hate crime is a fascinating example of how laws can be effective beyond simply threatening to punish someone for committing a crime. Not only do hate crime laws allow courts to impose fines and prison time on people whose actions harm a subset of the population, but they are effective at preventing those who hand out sentences from dismissing a vicious and subversive aspect of motive.
In my experience, people who disagree with hate crime law typically do so for two reasons: they conflate hate speech and hate crime and/or ignore the larger harm that hate crimes inflict upon members of the targeted subset.
Hate speech absolutely should not be criminalized, and in the United States, it isn’t. One of the few classes of speech excluded from the First Amendment is language that incites violence, but as Scalia pointed out, it’s not the specific content of that language that is excluded. There are no magic incantations that trigger otherwise calm human beings to engage in violence, only circumstances that can be manipulated.
However, if you beat up an Asian kid, your previous anti-Asian speech may be grounds for classifying what you did as a hate crime. Hate crimes have legitimacy as crime where hate speech does not, because they are acts that menace everyone within a protected social subset. After 9/11, many ethnic Middle Easterners were attacked because they were either Muslim or thought to be so. I had friends from Pakistan who were afraid to go outside for weeks because reports were flooding in that perfectly innocent Middle Eastern people were being targeted. Every single Muslim in the country was impacted by those hate crimes and left to wonder, “Will I be next?”
This brings up a few interesting points. A person who terrorizes a protected subset of the population for purely psychopathic reasons isn’t guilty of hate crime, even if, like Jeffrey Dahmer, all their victims are within a protected subset. With Dahmer, he only killed gay men, but he didn’t kill them because he wanted to send a message to the gay community, that men can expect to get muriatic acid poured into their brain if they hook up at bathhouses. He did it because he was crazy.
Then there’s the complication of terrorism. Columbine neither meets the criteria of being an act of terrorism, nor that of hate crime. In order for it to be a terrorist act, they would have had to intend some kind of political or social outcome beyond a body count. Here again, the Columbine shooters were psychopaths who wanted to kill a lot of people because it was something to do with their spare time. Conversely, the Charleston shooting—much smaller in scope—was both. It seems that, if you want to kill a lot of people, your best chance of getting a favorable sentence is to do it because you’re bored.
The other value of hate crime laws is that they essentially force those who administer justice to recognize the kinds of motives for crime that should be given special attention and stiffer sentences. Take murder, for instance. From a punitive standpoint, murder statutes give judges a wide range of prison time and the possibility of parole to deal with when they are sizing up how important it is to keep someone out of society. Again, circumstances are everything, and the same law that allows a Jeffrey Dahmer to go to prison forever can be a little more forgiving to someone else if there’s a good reason.
Imagine if someone like Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks—a man who recently referred to the fact that minorities seem to be lining up in opposition to Trump as a “war on whites”—was sitting on the judge’s bench. I’m not saying there would be a problem, but if he was talking like that and a few specific instances of racially motivated crimes resulted in light sentences, simply pointing out he’s biased might not cause a public outcry. However, suggesting that he’s supporting hate crime has a certain… aftertaste to it that might not go away with only a little PR brushing and flossing.
In fact, the designation of “hate crime” carries with it something akin to—or possibly worse than—a “war crime” in our country. And it’s a damn good thing. We should protect our social and cultural integrity, insofar as we aren’t seeking to bias our perception of normalcy. Hate crimes are attempts to distort and limit our definition of what “people” should be, and that’s worth punishing.
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. For more of his work, visit HillofAthens.com. Reach him at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.
And justice for all
Hate crime legislation fails to meet objective standards
By Don Hurst
Hate crime laws served a purpose. They say justice is blind, and there was certainly a time when justice was blind to crimes committed against minority groups. When the legal system, through non-enforcement, says that assault isn’t assault if it’s done against [insert group here], then criminals see that as a green light: hate crime legislation intended to show criminals, and victims, that no one was fair game anymore.
Hate crime laws were necessary. However, today’s heightened social awareness, federal government oversight, and pervasive social media discourage jurisdictions from not punishing crimes against minorities. Now, these laws do more harm than good and should no longer exist.
The subjectivity of what defines “hate” renders hate crime legislation ineffective. Well-crafted laws abhor vague language. Webster’s dictionary defines murder, assault, and weapon in one or two sentences. Law books use pages to describe each one in exhaustive detail with the goal to remove as much gray area as possible. When the jury deliberates, the legal system wants them to know the exact difference between murder and manslaughter. After all, lives hang in the balance.
But what is hate? How do we define it? Who defines it? Are there varying degrees of hate? Did hate motivate this crime? How do we know? How can we really understand a person’s inner reasons for committing a crime beyond a reasonable doubt? These questions are too vague and hard to answer beyond a reasonable doubt.
Our legal system works best when it tackles concrete, tangible evidence. As a juror, I can see the defendant’s clothes contained the victim’s DNA. I can see the police found the murder weapon in the defendant’s house. But can I see his or her hate as defined by hate crime laws?
These laws divert prosecutors from their main objective of proving that the suspect committed the original crime in the first place. It’s hard to do. Unless it’s a crime-of-the-century, prosecutors juggle several cases at a time. The overtaxed system and the perpetually expanding backlog of cases already divert their attention. Time spent proving motive beyond a reasonable doubt hinders proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Juries don’t make the job any easier. There is always that one juror whose definition of “beyond a reasonable doubt” would make Mulder from the X-Files cringe. Maybe aliens do exist? Maybe he does have a twin brother who stole that car?
It’s a Herculean task to get a jury of 12 to agree on facts, much less motivation. These laws ask our citizens to increase a defendant’s jail time based on feelings. Unless a criminal is wearing a Nazi uniform, carrying his KKK membership card in his wallet, and sports a tattoo of “I hate Jews,” it’s difficult to say beyond a reasonable doubt that hate, as defined by federal law, motivated a crime.
The uneven application of these laws generates problems, as well. According to the FBI’s website, hate crime laws are supposed to target terror groups. Do they? No, they don’t.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, hated Americans. The explosive devices he set horrifically maimed and killed innocent people—the youngest an 8-year-old boy. Tsarnaev wrote in his own hand that he was a solider of God who wanted to hurt Americans.
The jury convicted Tsarnaev of 30 counts related to firearms, explosives, murder, and aiding and abetting. The prosecutors did not include hate crimes in the indictment. The worst terrorist act since 9/11, and it is not a hate crime. I guess the FBI meant other types of hate-based terror groups.
Hate crime laws also create a hierarchy of victims. Courts are telling some victims that their pain is not as worthy as the pain of others. A black man shot by a black man is entitled to less justice than a black man shot by a white man with a possible hate motive. It’s the same bullet no matter what. The victim is no less dead, just not as important because his assailant hated him as a person not as member of a protected group. That logic doesn’t make sense.
These laws divide us more than they encourage unity. Victims receive more justice if they fall into a special category of people. Hate crime laws erode the very basis of our legal system at its best and most noble: Equality for All.
It is true at certain points in our history that different groups have needed more protection. Laws to protect them have always existed. It’s never been legal to attack someone because of his or her identity. Courts have not always applied those laws equally. The constitutional answer, which treats all people equally and relies on objective truth, is to aggressively prosecute crimes of action and not focus on crimes of motivation.
Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.