Silly Arguments Against Hate Crimes Legislation

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Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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27 Responses

  1. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    So….what is your take then? Intent matters, but it’s exceedingly difficult to prove…so….

    See, because I agree, but I’m also at a loss.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Farmer
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    says:

    To support irrational laws because the current gang is applying rationality to the laws is a dangerous stance to take — the next gang might not be so rational.Report

  3. Avatar Will
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    says:

    So prosecute hate crimes when you can prove it. Seems easy enough to me.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    It seems to me that this is a way of communicating that one really, seriously, truly *CARES* deeply about a problem without actually having to do anything.

    “So prosecute hate crimes when you can prove it.”

    Under what circumstances can it be proven? If the answer in practice is “only under circumstances where the person would receive the maximum sentence anyway”, what good is a hate crime beyond communicating that you really, honestly, truly *CARE*?

    I’m not asking for a hypothetical, here. I’m looking at stuff like, say, James Byrd where the three murderers received two death penalties and one life in prison penalty.

    If this particular crime doesn’t meet the bar of a hate crime (doubtful), what use is hate crime legislation?

    If it does, what added benefit (beyond communicating how much and how deeply legislators care) would hate crime legislation provide?

    Can you provide an example of a real case that was a travesty of justice that would have been mitigated by the existence of hate crime laws?Report

  5. Avatar Will
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird –

    Plenty of crimes (including the occasional murder) don’t automatically receive a maximum sentence. I don’t think it’s difficult to augment the sentence of someone convicted of assault, for example.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “I don’t think it’s difficult to augment the sentence of someone convicted of assault, for example.”

    I can easily imagine many crimes that could be augmented by hate crimes laws.

    I was interested, however, in the *NEED* for such laws. Do we need these laws to prevent ongoing travesties of justice?

    If so, can you give an example?

    If not, can you see why some might see hate crimes laws as “communication” rather than helpful legislation?Report

  7. Avatar sidereal
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m curious as to which arguments in the linked thread you’re considering ‘uncommonly silly’. I’ve seen uncommonly silly arguments regarding hate crimes legislation of course, but I didn’t notice any in that particular thread.Report

  8. Avatar Freddie
    Ignored
    says:

    No, we probably shouldn’t be in the business of creating special protections for homeless victims,

    Sullivan too seemed to find this so obvious as to not require explanation. But why? Homeless people need special protection because they are inordinately the victims of random crimes, not simply because they are stuck on the street but because they are targeted by people who believe, often correctly, that there won’t be any consequences for hurting them. They are precisely the people who need hate crimes legislation the most.Report

  9. Avatar sidereal
    Ignored
    says:

    Homeless people need special protection because they are inordinately the victims of random crimes, not simply because they are stuck on the street but because they are targeted by people who believe, often correctly, that there won’t be any consequences for hurting them.

    Yes, but the critical fact is that the reason they’re often correct in believing that there won’t be any consequences is that the law is frequently not enforced on the perpetrators, because they are difficult to capture. This being the case, adding an extra law that also won’t be enforced for the same reason provides no value. The solution is to put homeless people in a position where they cannot be victimized either by (preferably) making them less homeless or by ensuring that they receive every bit of protection and investigative effort that everyone else gets.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Homeless people need special protection because they are inordinately the victims of random crimes, not simply because they are stuck on the street but because they are targeted by people who believe, often correctly, that there won’t be any consequences for hurting them. ”

    Do you really see an additional law that won’t get any more enforced than the ones already in place as “special protection”?Report

  11. Avatar Freddie
    Ignored
    says:

    Do you really see an additional law that won’t get any more enforced than the ones already in place as “special protection”?

    It’s not unheard of for harsher punishments to lead to reduced rates of the crime in question.Report

  12. Avatar John Schwenkler
    Ignored
    says:

    Sidereal and Jaybird are exactly right. Add to that the fact that, as others have noted, many or most of the crimes committed against the homeless – and Freddie’s example of a crime that’s committed because it’s thought likely to have no consequences is a case in point! – are likely to have nothing at all to do with hate, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for accomplishing … nothing.

    By the way, Will, I think you’re wrong on motivation and intent, and I’ve got a post up on the subject.Report

  13. Avatar Freddie
    Ignored
    says:

    If you guys are really ready to jettison the concept of assigning harshest punishments to more costly crimes, I’d like for you all to totally flesh out the philosophical and legal consequences of that. Because they’re vast.Report

  14. Avatar John Schwenkler
    Ignored
    says:

    If you guys are really ready to jettison the concept of assigning harshest punishments to more costly crimes, I’d like for you all to totally flesh out the philosophical and legal consequences of that. Because they’re vast.

    Huh? By what metric are hate crimes especially “costly”?Report

  15. Avatar sidereal
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    says:

    And to what extent are the punishments for premeditated murder insufficiently ‘harsh’?Report

  16. Avatar Trumwill
    Ignored
    says:

    My main concern with Hate Crimes is if it is pursued to the extent that any crime against a protected group is considered a “hate crime”. A black guy and a white guy get into a shouting match at a bar, the severity of the crime suddenly depends on who hits who first.

    That being said, I am not convinced that these laws don’t have their place. When the obvious intent is to intimidate a class of persons on the basis of their race and the behavior is far from isolated, it makes sense to attach a greater sentence to a crime with greater meaning.

    While a black guy hitting a white guy and vice-versa in a bar over some trivial thing are equivalent crimes, a black guy lighting up a poop-bag and sticking it on some white person’s doorstep is substantively different from a white guy lighting up a cross on some black family’s front lawn.

    The other pertinent question beyond the nature of the motivation is whether or not a group of people need these laws in order to insure that people that commit crimes against them are worth prosecuting. and do potential perpetrators need to know that crimes along that particular basis will be looked at with much greater scrutiny. I think that homeless people (and homosexuals) may fall into this category far moreso than any racial minority. Knowing that the full force of Johnny Law will fall down on you if you go beat up a homosexual couple may in fact act as a sort of deterrent and prevent someone from doing something stupid.

    Whether these things are occurring with enough regularity to go down that road (and nothing in between here and there will suffice), I don’t know. I think I’m a tad skeptical, but I’m open to being convinced.Report

  17. Avatar Bob Cheeks
    Ignored
    says:

    Will are you going to cover S 909 (?), a pending Senate (?) bill concerning “hate speech?”Report

  18. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “Granted, a lot of this is context-dependent, and I don’t think federal legislation is really necessary, but under the right circumstances I can see how hate crimes enforcement could be justified. ”

    Do these circumstances exist outside of the theoreticals you’ve considered?Report

  19. Avatar Ken
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ve both prosecuted and defended civil rights violations (which are very similar to this bill) and hate crime allegations. Just a couple of comments:

    My main concern with Hate Crimes is if it is pursued to the extent that any crime against a protected group is considered a “hate crime”. A black guy and a white guy get into a shouting match at a bar, the severity of the crime suddenly depends on who hits who first.

    Actually, hate motivation is the weak link in civil rights and hate crimes cases. It’s the element that most often leads prosecutors to decline the case (at least as a hate crimes case) and the element that most often leads to acquittal or a hung jury. I lost a civil rights case I was prosecuting against one of two brothers — the jury concluded that the first brother was a racist who was harassing a local family out of racial animus, but that the second brother was just an asshole and a follower. Another time I had to refer a hate crimes case over to the DA’s office — no federal hook — and the DA convicted the defendant at trial of assault, but not the hate-crime enhancement, despite the fact that the defendant assaulted the victim after using anti-Semitic slurs against him. Also, prosecutors have historically been pretty timid about bringing hate crime charges rather than plain-vanilla charges — sometimes leading to anger in the victim community in question.

    So, could prosecutors charge a hate crime every time that the victim is a different gender/race/sexual preference/religion than the defendant? Yes. Prosecutors could charge every assault as assault with intent to kill. Prosecutors could charge every possession of drugs case as possession with intent to distribute. But there is no basis to conclude that they would do so here.

    Will are you going to cover S 909 (?), a pending Senate (?) bill concerning “hate speech?”

    Actually, SB 909 is the Senate version of the House bill being discussed here. Can you point to the particular portion that criminalizes speech, please?Report

  20. Avatar Bob Cheeks
    Ignored
    says:

    Ken,
    No I can’t. I just heard a blurb this morning on the radio (I see I got thet number wrong), but I thought I heard the term “hate speech.” If you hear something about this would you comment? Much appreciated.Report

  21. Avatar Ken
    Ignored
    says:

    Bob, Senate Bill 909 (SB 909) is, as near as I can figure, just the Senate version of the House hate crimes bill that has already passed. I haven’t compared them to see if and how they are different. Nobody has cited to me any provision of the Senate version that could, in my opinion, be classified as punishing “hate speech” as opposed to “hate crimes.” Of course, critics have been claiming that the House version is a “hate speech” bill, so what you heard is probably more of the same.

    The argument that this is a “hate speech” law goes like this: if I say “I hate damned white people,” then hit a white person, then my statement can be taken as evidence of my bias motive for the attack, one of the elements of the hate crime law.

    Of course, if that’s the standard for what a violation of free speech looks like, then a vast number of existing laws violate free speech. If I say “I’m going to kill you for prosecuting my brother”, and then try to hit a federal prosecutor with an axe, then my statement can be taken as evidence that (1) I knew the victim was a prosecutor, (2) I attacked the victim because of his work as a prosecutor, and (3) I meant to kill the victim, all elements of the federal crime of attempted murder of a federal prosecutor.

    Similarly, if I’ve spent the last ten years talking about how much I hate Naderites and how they deserve to die, and a Naderite turns up murdered on my street, my past statements can be used as evidence that I’m the one who killed him.Report

  22. Avatar Bob Cheeks
    Ignored
    says:

    Ken,

    Thanks! I am interested in following this to see if it does devolve onto ‘speech.’ I should like to see how the 1st Amend. is side stepped; perhaps I’ll be joining with my ‘liberal’ friends in resisting ‘speech’ restrictions. Again, thank you.Report

  23. Avatar David T
    Ignored
    says:

    Will talks about hate-crimes legislation as providing an extra measure of protection for minorities, especially blacks. But that isn’t the way it works out in the real world. In fact, blacks are more likely to be charged with hate crimes than are whites.Report

  24. Avatar sidereal
    Ignored
    says:

    Okay now we’ve heard a silly argument against hate crime laws.Report

  25. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Nat Hentoff has an interesting essay up here:

    http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10188

    As someone who digs Hentoff, allow me to urge you to read it.

    Not that I’m telling you how to live, of course.Report

  26. Avatar Will
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird –

    Nice find. I’ll be sure to check it out.Report

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