Why I Hate Hate Crime Laws

Just do it with love, and they'll be lenient...

I did it to myself, I confess: reminding myself of the nation’s offensive hate crime laws while writing about the McDonald’s beating, pausing in the middle of the main theme of the post to note the foolishness of investigating whether or not an unprovoked attack qualifies as a hate crime. Hate crime laws infuriate me every time I think about them, because they represent the lowest and most cynical form of cultural values-setting by lawmaking, an important governmental task that is increasingly a lost art, because today’s lawmakers care more about posturing and power than values.

Two unidentified men beat Bryan Stow, a 42-year-old paramedic, senseless in the parking lot outside Dodger Stadium on opening day. Why? He was wearing a San Francisco Giant jersey, and it was Dodger territory. The father of two suffered a fractured skull and damage to the frontal lobe of his brain, and the left side of his skull  has been removed to allow his swollen brain to decompress. Now he is a medically induced coma; it is uncertain whether he will ever recover, or be able to function if he does.

But according to the law, what his attackers did to him is less reprehensible than if they had done it to a gay man, a Muslim student, or an African-American. Ruining someone’s life because he roots for the wrong baseball team is not sufficiently diabolical to require a special law. No, this is just normal, brutal, senseless, run-of the-mill hate, not the really bad hate, directed at victims that have advocacy groups and voting blocs.

Oh, but if there were enough Giants fans, believe me, there would be a law. Grandstanding politicians would say that there has to be a law to prevent such fan beatings, not that any law would change a thing, or prevent a single injury. The sub-human thugs who attack innocent people like Brian Stow presumably don’t reason that they would really, really like to beat the stuffing out of that guy wearing the Giants jersey and possibly kill him, but there’s that tough new law that adds punishment for Giant fan-hate, and who wants to risk that?

Thus the horrendous murders of Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd launched drives for new hate crime laws, so cynical politicians could pander to gays, African-Americans and other groups. The murders of both Shepherd and Bird would justify the harshest punishment under victim identity-neutral (read: democratic) laws already on the books for centuries, but never mind: this was an opportunity to sooth prime constituencies, while tarring any sensible opponent of the legislation as racist, or homophobic, or not sufficiently caring.

The resulting laws are inherently anti-democratic, by their very existence declaring that one human being’s death or serious injury at the hands of lawless brutes is of more concern to society than another’s, because that human being belongs to a special, special class that it is especially wrong to hate.  Most of the people who applaud such laws usually hate plenty, of course, but it is virtuous hate, since in their world view it is only right to hate Republicans and successful entrepreneurs and conservatives and Fox News and fundamentalist Christians and global warming skeptics and Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. Other people’s hate, however is criminal. Add in the element of that bad, senseless hate to an old-fashioned murder, and you have an extra-bad murder.

This ignores that fact that, much as the word and thought and opinion censors would prefer otherwise, it isn’t illegal to hate in America; in fact, hate is constitutionally protected, along with the speech that expresses it.  Criminalizing hate is really criminalizing thought, which is the modus operandi of depots, not republics. It also ignores the irony that in attempting to create Martin Luther King’s society in which a citizen is judged by the content of his character, we are crafting a criminal justice system that measures the worth of the victim by whether the hate he inspired was deemed worthy of special condemnation. Hate a Jew, Asian or transgendered American enough to put him in a coma, and you’re in big trouble. Send someone to intensive care because he or she is fat, or too pretty, or stuck up, or rich, or a Tea Party member, or a birther, or a Giants fan, and it’s just not as big a deal.

Does that make sense?

Any victim of violence is as important as any other. Any perpetrator of the same degree of violence is as wrong as any other, whether the trigger is hate, or anger, or greed, or vengeance or envy or stupidity. These laws confuse our ethical instincts, minimizing the crimes against men, women and children because they don’t have the “right” skin-color, sexual orientation or other traits to motivate legislatures to express special outrage when their bodies, families and lives are destroyed. On the pretense of uniting us, hate crime laws divide us further.

Yes, it is fair to say that I hate hate crime laws. For now, at least, that kind of hate isn’t against the law.

16 thoughts on “Why I Hate Hate Crime Laws

  1. I am no expert in American law (or the law of any other country, really) but wasn’t one of the rationales behind hate crime legislation to allow federal prosecution of crimes that the states themselves were less likely to prosecute due to bias, prejudice, hatred, etc.? If this is the rationale, then hate crime laws make more sense (or made more sense in a different time) because they are trying to ensure that criminals do not escape punishment due to bias against their victims or community support for their crimes.

    • Except that 45 states and the District also have hate crime laws. This isn’t 1953—there wasn’t a chance in a million that Byrd’s killers or Shepherd’s killers wouldn’t be prosecuted in their states—-high profile cases like those? Yet the Federal hate crime expamsion bill Pres. Obama signed was named after Byrd and Shepherd…pandering, that’s all it was, so the feds could get in on the act. The rationale you are talking about is why the civil rights laws were put in place—60 years ago.

  2. I wondered about several of those cases. What do you do when the perpetrator already gets the death penalty without the hate-crime legislation? Do you execute him, revive him, then execute him again? When is enough enough?

    • Well to begin with, they’re really, really rude to him before the execution. They over-cook the last meal, too. And the chaplain they get to read to him is a special one with bad breath and a lisp. Then they always play a trick on the condemned, like strapping him into a fake electric chair, you know, to annoy him. After the execution, which is handled by Obama’s PR advisors so, you know, it will be botched, they sell the body to that artist who skins cadavers, puts plastic in them and exhibits them as art, and he poses the body like Richard Simmons. Thus is justice served.

  3. The simplest, and oldest rebuttal to “hate crime” legislation is this:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, . . . .”


  4. It’s with a heavy heart that I have to agree with you. While I *do* believe crimes based on race, gender, etc to be a problem, why is a criminal who targets a specific class inherently worse than one who attacks with the same vigor indiscriminately?

    Back when the Supreme Court ruled against capitol punishment in rape cases involving children, I thought, “Good! Rape is bad no matter who the victim is, so why are we creating a hierarchy of rape?” Why should I think any differently here?

  5. It’s worth noting that here in Texas, a state with a reputation for being no slouches in the law and order department, we have had several cases in the last year or so in which prosecutors could have brought hate crimes charges against defendents addition to the charges that got them into trouble in the first place (Jack, you’re a lawyer; feel free to clean this sentence up, as I’m pretty sure I just blew it). Why not do both? Because hate crimes charges turn a nice, clean prosecution into a complicated, messy one. In the former instance, all a jury needs to know is that a crime was commited, a particular person did it, and they can convict (OK, it’s a little more complicated than that). In the latter instance, however, the jury also has to deal with why the defendent may have done what they did, a trickier thing to prove. I think Texas is saying, in effect, “We’ll put this guy away for a long, long time and, if you think adding a little additional time will make a difference, knock yourself out trying.”

    • That’s pretty much it, Karl. Hate Crimes put politics and demographics into what should be a straightforward case of justice based on the evidence. It also involves the federal government indirectly, if not directly. Personally, given the state of the American judiciary from the past few decades, I’d much rather put my case before a judge and jury from the much-maligned 1950’s. Back then, crime was understood for what it was, judges didn’t legislate from the bench and juries weren’t chosen from the lowest common denominator.

      In reference to what Jack said (correctly) about the silliness inherent in the very concept of hate crimes, I’d add a postscript from the law enforcement standpoint. Some of the worst crimes of all did not involve hate. They were the result of cold, cruel and calculated atrocity for the purpose of personal gain or a larger agenda. Dr. Mengele. John Wayne Gacy. Even Ted Kennedy, to stretch a point. Hate crimes, besides being essentially unconstitutional, are small potatoes next to the more monstrous crimes of DISpassion.

      • Or, on the other side, crimes done just for the hell of it are also worse. I think the individual who decides to kill someone just because it might be fun—think Leopold and Loeb—is far more frightening and despicable than someone who kills out of hate—at least hate is a reason.

        • I could have mentioned them too, Jack. This sort of crime falls into that borderland between murder for passion and that of gain that we sometimes refer to as “thrill kill”. Leopold and Loeb were perhaps the single most notorious case of this in American criminal history. Starkweather, Speck, Guevara and Manson might fall in this category as well. Anyone who can act on such motives (often including a sexual thrill from the act of brutal murder) is as dangerous as they come. But there’s no “hate”. Maybe, in that context, we should introduce legislation for “joy crimes”!

  6. Having met someone who wrote hate crimes legislation for the state of Minnesota I have observed that this person was himself a true hater and a very greedy lawyer. I find him to be a true hate criminal in the true sense of the word. He would allow an innocent peace loving American to be treated like a criminal, threatened with life in prison just for peacefully talking to someone one time. We havbe very ill people writing these laws.

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