“I don’t think it’s a hate crime, it’s just a recession out there.”
—A Staten Island neighbor of 17-year-old Yashua Plair, who has been arrested and charged with a hate crime for shouting anti-Latino epithets while attacking a 15-year-old Mexican boy to take his i-Pod.
Oh. Well, I guess it’s OK then.
The warped logic behind the concept of hate crimes is especially perverse because it acts to alter society’s perceptions and priorities regarding wrongdoing. The Constitution gives us the right to think what we want and even shout epithets and insults, but grandstanding legislators have cynically chosen to do an end-around free speech and thought by declaring crimes more serious if the criminal is thinking bigoted thoughts while doing them. (As misguided as they are, the hate crime laws still take unusual political courage to oppose, because nay-sayers will be accused of being “pro-hate.”) Not just any hateful thoughts will do, mind you: if the attacker in Staten Island merely hated the boy because he possessed something the attacker could not afford to by, that’s socially acceptable hate, and the law ignores is. Hating the kid because he’s a Mexican, however, is intolerable.
The effect of these laws on public ethical standards is nicely illustrated by the quote. The law should regard the crimes in this case as the physical violence and the theft of property, but making it a hate crime announces that these factors are just incidental to the real crime, which is abusing a fellow citizen for taboo reasons. Common sense would dictate that all such crimes indicate the lack of sufficient respect, and that in a free and capitalistic society, not respecting the property of another is reason enough for punishment.
American society’s traditional ethical standards have held that taking another’s personal property is a serious offense under any circumstances, regardless of motive. If the point of hate crime legislation is to gradually replace this with a new version, declaring theft inspired by envy, greed, revenge or a sense of entitlement less offensive to society that theft based on bigotry, it seems to be working…at least in Staten Island.