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11.7.04

Only Haters Oppose Hate Crimes Legislation

Amanda nicely summarizes the case for hate crimes legislation:

What hate crime legislation does, or should do at least, is make it also a crime to commit a crime against an individual in an attempt to intimidate an entire group or community of people. So, while killing a black man over ordinary murder-type stuff is a regular murder, killing a black man in order to remind the entire black population of a community that their lot in life is that of random, racist violence is another crime entirely. In the second case, you have committed murder, which is a crime. You have also threatened violence against an entire community, which is also a crime. In Texas, you cannot be put to death for murder alone. It must be in the commission of another crime. Hate crime legislation creates that other crime. You are guilty of murder and threatening an entire community. Murder plus a felony means the death penalty in this state.


What I must disagree with, however, is her subsequent implication that opposing hate crime legislation is evidence of racism (and sexism, homophobia, etc.). I'm not about to claim that I'm free of racism etc., but I don't think that in my case it was prejudice was a factor in my longstanding uneasiness with the idea of hate crimes legislation. Amanda assumes that the nature of the "second crime" in a hate crime situation is obvious, and that therefore anyone against hate crimes legislation is for intimidating various oppressed groups. Given that framing of the issue, it is tough to come up with justifications aside from prejudice for opposing hate crimes legislation (perhaps one would be a strong libertarianism that claims that only direct physical harm is a legitimate basis for government intervention). So her point holds some weight in the case of the friends she's mentioned who have heard her argument yet remain opposed to hate crimes legislation.

But it's not so obvious, particularly to someone who hasn't done much research on the topic, what the "second crime" in a hate crime is. My understanding prior to reading Amanda's post was that, as the name suggests, the second crime is hate. The perpetrator is being punished for killing (or raping or beating or whatever) someone, and for hating some group that the victim was a member of. Hate crimes legislation was meant, I thought, to eliminate hate either because of its inherent badness, or because it presents such a high risk of leading to additional crimes. Punishing hate is not something that I'm happy having the government do, as it opens the door to infringing on freedom of thought. In Amanda's framing of the issue, however, determining whether the perpetrator hates the victim's group is not a matter of establishing guilt, but of establishing intent -- someone who isn't racist can't have meant to intimidate all black people any more than someone who didn't want the victim dead could have meant to kill them (though perhaps there should be a category of "unintended hate crime" -- a sort of "hate manslaughter").

So I stand by my prior uneasiness about hate crimes legislation, given the framing in which I understood it. Hopefully the fact that I quickly rethought my position after reading Amanda's post demonstrates that I was not simply willfully holding onto a wrong framing in order to avoid having to take a straightforwardly racist, etc. position. And I don't think my situation is all that uncommon.

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