Thursday, December 01, 2011

In Defense of Hate Crime Laws

Over on Facebook, one of my FB friends posted a link to an article criticizing hate crime laws, with the idea that it's a violation of free speech to punish someone for the reason why they committed the crime.  And the whole thing was just a rehash of the same debate we had during the 90's when the idea of punishing hate crimes first came up, by someone who seems to imagine they've found a novel argument against it.  You know, how it's thought policing and protecting special groups at the expense of white people.  That kind of thing.  But I don't post often enough, so I figured I'd post my response here.  Enjoy!

So...when the KKK puts a burning cross on someone's property, should that be punished the same as someone who starts a fire on that property to keep warm?  Or should the burning cross be taken as something more than a mere fire?

And when a Neo-Nazi paints a Swastika on a Jew's house, is that the same as someone tagging their name on the house as graffiti?  Or is there something more going on than just spraypaint?

And I'll admit to not being a lawyer, yet I'm of the understanding that criminal law DOES take the reason for our actions into consideration. For example, we have various levels of how to treat someone who kills someone else, depending upon the reasons and actions behind the killing; ranging from first degree murder down to manslaughter, and all the way down to self defense for people defending themselves.  So we clearly treat killers differently, depending upon their reasons for killing. 

Moreover, our punishments are different, depending upon the circumstances.  So someone convicted of first degree murder for shooting their wife with a gun is treated differently than someone who shoved their wife into a woodchipper.  Plus, someone who's killed before will be treated differently than someone who's never killed before, because it's assumed that the repeat killer is developing a pattern. 

Again, I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that we already treat the same actions differently depending upon the circumstances, which is why we have such leeway in how to prosecute people and what the punishment should be, because different circumstances deserve different punishments.  And so hate crimes would be an extension of that principle, as someone who goes around mugging for money is less dangerous than someone who only mugs white people because they hate them.

BTW, unless I'm mistaken, hate crimes can be committed against EVERY group, including whites; so the mention in the article that some groups are treated differently than others would be false.  It's not that there's a protected group of people.  It's that we're all protected against people who are specifically targeting us due to the group we're in.

And the overall point is that free speech is still free and you're still entitled to think whatever the hell you want to think; including hatred of others.  But as soon as you act upon those thoughts, it becomes an entirely different ballgame and you can be treated differently based upon the reasons why you did it.

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