What’s Wrong With ‘Hate’ Crimes
In our West Hollywood neighborhood not long ago, a gay man was brutally beaten by a trio of homophobic thugs. Much hand-wringing was done in the local press about whether the miscreants had targeted their victim simply because he was homosexual. If this were so, activists argued, the crime was even worse than a simple robbery-gone-wrong. If the attack was the result of misplaced rage at someone’s sexual preference, then the violence done was somehow worse than if it was the result of greed, jealousy, or rage about something else.
This way of thinking undermines two key tenets of American justice: That the law is supposed to be applied blindly, regardless of class, religion, color, country club memberships, or fondness for oral sex; and that the law is not meant to regulate what people think.
Let’s say that in West Hollywood two separate crimes were committed, both resulting in an identical number of broken bones and contusions. Both male victims suffer terribly and equally. Victim One, a homosexual, was targeted for the Rolex on his wrist. Victim Two, a homosexual, was targeted for wearing a “Barbra Streisand For President” tee-shirt, blue eye-shadow, and a fake diamond tiara. Should Victim One’s attackers get less prison time because they were out for an overpriced timepiece? We don’t think so. Indeed, the acts in both crimes were identical. It was merely the thinking that differed.
Legislators (and those who support) so-called “hate crimes,” ought to admit that these kind of laws aren’t concerned with deterring violence or protecting innocent victims. They’re meant to punish hateful people for having hateful thoughts. In America, as opposed to, say, a Muslim Theocracy, having bad thoughts isn’t against the law. Acting on them is. But the act — a beating, a murder — is what the law already punishes. To prescribe additional punishment in the case of racially or sexually motivated crimes is to imply that a crime devoid of these motivations is somehow “better,” since the “hate crime” is somehow “worse.”
Anyone who commits a violent crime ought to receive the appropriate penalty, regardless of how stupid, misguided, and unenlightened he might be.