If you follow the news, you’ve probably heard about the so-called “knockout game” in recent weeks, where people sucker punch unsuspecting people, I guess to see if they can knock them out cold or not. Nice, huh? How widespread a problem it is is unclear, but its certainly a disturbing trend nonetheless. Just a few days ago, a Brooklyn man, Amrit Marajh, was charged with a hate crime for assaulting an Orthodox Jew in an apparent knockout attempt (link to story at the bottom). I became curious why exactly he was charged with a hate crime, and despite my queries online, I couldn’t find out, except that Jews have been attacked in this manner of late in larger numbers than other population groups. It got me to thinking, what even constitutes a hate crime? Are hate crime laws really just? Are they constructive, despite the good intentions that created this new classification of crime?
According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, “Hate crimes are criminal acts or attempted criminal acts against an individual or group of individuals because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.” So, why wouldn’t we want to try and dissuade people from bias? Sounds like a good thing to me. In fact, if you aren’t for these laws, you’re probably a hater, right? I mean, why wouldn’t we want to try and try and prevent bigots from being bigots by having harsher prison sentences for them if it can in fact be shown that they targeted a certain group of people simply for being a member of that group?
I personally agree for example with stiff penalties as a general mean of dissuasion. I happen to believe stiff penalties do help prevent people from doing certain things, if applied with enough force and applied consistently. I’m for the death penalty for example because I think it discourages people from doing horrible things to other people, but again, it only does so if applied forcefully and consistently; something not done today. So why not apply that very same concept to hate and bias? It might seem to make sense to do that. After all, if you penalize something harshly, by that reasoning, by my reasoning, it makes sense that you will have less of it as a result. Well, not so quickly.
The problem with hate crime laws, despite the above reasoning, and I was surprised to learn quite a few liberals today think this is the case as well, is there is an inherent inability to fairly and equally prosecute people under what in reality are pretty vague laws. Proponents of hate crime laws claim that there is a burden of proof with these laws that must be met that ensure that they not be misapplied. They claim such legislation ardently and truly weeds out the true pond-scum from the rest of us, so that there is no chance of a misapplication of these laws. Proponents claim there is a much higher burden of proof that ensures these laws are properly applied so that only true bigots and haters be prosecuted with stiffer penalties.
I don’t know how they over time became convinced of that, but after looking into it, no such firewalls exist at all. It’s the reason why Andrew Sullivan, a liberal, told Bill Maher, another liberal, on Maher’s show, about a year ago, in railing against these well-intentioned but ill-conceived law, “No one is defending hate here, we are defending liberty!” (link to the video at the bottom). That is an important point to make in these regards, namely, being against hate crime laws doesn’t mean you’re a hater. Unfortunately to many people, it does mean that, and that belief is pushed as a means of silencing opposition to these laws. In fact, it is much of the reason these laws were able to be passed in the first place, namely, we live in a politically correct society where no one is willing to stand up for what they believe if someone might put the racist claim or bigot claim on them, so who would want to stop the passage of laws like these and risk that stigma? So they have come into existence over time as a result.
Contrary to what proponents of hate crime legislation advocate, all that need be done for something to be classified and prosecuted as a hate crime under the law is the prosecutors opinion that a crime was done out of hate for a group, and for a jury to be convinced that an act was done against a person or persons specifically because they belong to a certain protected group. There is no list for example of expletives that qualify a person to be a hater, or list of particular manners which are excusable or not. No such lists exist. The only thing that does exist is ever-changing precedent, created by changing public opinion as to what is to be considered hateful of a group, or what is considered bigoted.
BTW, I use the word “protected group” in the last paragraph in relation to these laws because despite what many people may think, such laws do not protect everyone equally. Hate crime laws do not just simply state that if anyone attacks any other person by virtue of that person belonging to “a” group, that such an act is then a hate crime. No, there are only certain people that are granted this protection (see the above definition of a hate crime again), which were produced by well-intended people, but which itself creates inequity in its incompleteness. So you can kill grandpa, and do it because of a twisted distaste of old, sickly people, and that’s not a hate crime under the law, because ageism is not included as a hate crime. Funny, seems like hate to me.
What these laws do is give broad discretion in prosecuting our laws, the most recent example of which was the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman was not prosecuted for hate crimes, but man o man did a hoard of leftists demand that it be done, despite no evidence that George Zimmerman even hates black people at all, and it really would not have surprised me if this were done. Would it have you? It certainly wouldn’t have surprised me. And it shows just how biased peoples attitudes are, considering so many people wanted a hate crime to be applied here. It shows the imperfect nature of people, about which this article is largely concerned.
From everything I have heard from the people on the left, those people on the left that actually do not support hate crime laws, in their opinion, as alluded to by Andrew Sullivan, it stifles free expression, and freedom of speech in general. They claim people are free to be bigots and haters in this country. They claim that these laws criminalize thought. They are right. The question necessarily has to be asked, what exactly is a bigot? What some people think of as bigoted, others do not, and these laws therefore go directly to free speech and expression, as well as to fairness under the law. This attack on free speech is not even the primary reason I disagree with these laws, but it seems to be the reason many on the left do, and I have to say, I don’t disagree.
For me personally, my disagreement again has mostly to do with the injustice inherent in trying to divine to what degree a person hated another, if that hate rises to the subjective standard of a hate crime, and punishing them accordingly; and not even that, but punishing separate crimes equally that have to do with hate, which, are most crimes in one way or another. These laws have simply put way too much power and discretion than are appropriate and constructive in our legal system, or any legal system for that matter.
Let’s say there were two racist, bigoted haters, both of whom, at separate places and in separate ways killed someone who is black. It is shown with one of them for example that the killer had racial animus toward blacks, didn’t like them, and in that particular case there was a witness who heard the killer yelling the n-word as he shot the victim. That person would accordingly be convicted of a hate crime. Lets say he gets life in prison. The other racist individuals racism wasn’t quite as apparent, even though the crime WAS committed for the same exact reason and both people were racists, and because of that, the second person got 25 years in jail as opposed to life in prison, mind you same racists and the same crime. That’s justice? Wouldn’t it be more just for both of them to simply have gotten life in prison for murder, and treat the crime, not the degree of hate, like we always have done? Wouldn’t it actually be fairer?
One of the big supports proponents of these laws claim is that thought is already criminalized in our courts and this is nothing new, as there is a long precedent of motive playing a role in the prosecution of our laws. For example, if someone hits a pedestrian on accident and kills that person, and it can be shown they didn’t want to hit that person, then it is not murder, it’s just a tragic accident, and that person will not go to jail. If however it can be shown that the driver did in fact mean to hit that person, it is murder, and they could be locked up for life. So, proponents claim, motive matters in crime, and rightly so!
What proponents of these laws ignore, is motive has only ever mattered in this country insofar as whether or not a person actually meant to commit a crime or not. Hate crime legislation is a new precedent that has been set in this country, and “motive” as they would like to use it, in the way they are trying to use it, simply is not congruent. Why? Proponents of hate crime legislation point out that extra protections are afforded people in our society already. In other words, its nothing new at all. Well, hitting a road worker for example may bring with it an extra sentence and an extra fine as a way to try and inspire betting driving, and in so doing treat some people differently than others, but it has never been part of the law that you won’t get that extra fine if you didn’t mean to hit that worker. The drivers mens rea, or state of mind, doesn’t add or lessen the fine or sentence. The sentence and fine are assessed despite intent, or for that matter if that person liked or didn’t like road workers. Another example, firemen and woman and police are given extra protections when doing their job that may seem unfair at first glance, but these extra protections have nothing to do with motive, they have to do with liability. The arguments by proponents that motive has always played a role in the past in the way that they now want use it are not just a stretch, they just don’t hold water.
In reality, when you cut through all the B.S., what hate crimes are supposed to do, as alluded to above, is to send a message to people, so as to try and dissuade/prevent a certain behavior, in this case hate. These laws were created to make examples of certain people. But making an example of a person, whether you think of it this way or not, is itself an act of injustice. Let’s say for arguments sake that the law of the land were that anyone convicted of a DUI gets six months in jail. If someone were given 5 years in jail for a DUI because perhaps it was a higher profile case than the others, and because DUI’s were a big problem and people were trying to stop them, it would be rightly be said of the person who got the 5 years that the state made an example of him. Was the act of giving an extra sentence fair and just for that person being convicted? The others did the same thing as him. Now, the intent with the stiffer penalty was good, right? Such an instance however would be the essence of unfairness, actually, despite the good intentions. Its not equal protection under the law, ironically something such laws intend to achieve.
The injustice with these laws does not end there. It’s one thing to have two people both murder someone and because on was shown to be racist and one wasn’t that the racist got twice the prison term. That’s one thing. That’s technically an injustice no matter how you slice it, even if it is being done to dissuade a certain vile and hurtful attitude. But at least with this, the argument can be made that sure, it may technically be unjust, but it is the lesser of two evils, again, intended to stop hate, so that it is justifiable injustice to some extent. That is one thing. I don’t agree with it, but I can see the argument, though of course the argument by proponents wouldn’t be made it that way.
But, it cannot be stated enough, the even bigger injustice here is the fact that these new laws give people, informed only by public opinion, and not by hard and fast rules, the ability and the discretion to prosecute laws as they see fit, with the degree of punishment they see fit. If society deems something hateful and a singling out, and they disapprove, then the prison term is automatically doubled, or tripled. Who would want to live under such subjective laws?
The enormous discretion and vagueness of these laws, and the injustice that they themselves create are not theoretical, they are already well-documented. As one small example, in 2011, an 11 year old kid, Osman Daramy, was charged with a hate crime for beating up a little Muslim girl and trying to rip off her religious headdress. This kid is 11 for God’s sake. Was it a temper tantrum, or a hate crime? He is black, and his mother is Muslim BTW. But he was charged wit a hate crime, at 11. That’s the idiotic society we live in, and its just the tip of the iceberg in terms of this legislation. There is another example of hate crime legislation being abused in the Maher video link at the end of this article. I could list a dozen more examples, but what would they prove that these two incidents don’t already show? The problem is our own prejudices play into whether we want to even charge another individual for their prejudices! Would this 11 year old have been charged with a hate crime if he ripped the shirt off some girl who happened to be baptist? Would the first thing that came to mind for people be that this kid did it because she was baptist? I have my doubts.
In my opinion, these hate crime laws are of course well-intended, but ill-conceived, and much of the left agrees with me on that one. They are just another attempt by the left of social engineering our society, and in so doing, suspending whatever rights they think need to be suspended to accomplish the end goal of equality. It’s the same line of thinking that gave us affirmative action, namely, a belief that you can create an injustice to try and undo a bigger injustice. All it does is make our laws more convoluted, subjective, and unjust in the end, and those people advocating for them apparently have way more confidence in both government and human nature than I do. Sullivan was right when he said, “No one is defending hate here, we are defending liberty”: