On The Foolishness of Hate Crime Laws

Thank you, Richard Cohen, for this eloquent piece on the sheer lunacy of hate crime laws. Why must we criminalize the thoughts of people who commit physical crimes? It serves no purpose other than to offer more protection to one class of people than another.

Sometimes the absurdity of hate crimes laws is revealed. Remember the case of James Byrd, the black man from Texas who was chained to a truck and barbarically dragged to his death by three white men? That crime, already a capital offense, led to the passage of hate crimes laws in Texas over the principled objection of then-Gov. George W. Bush.

For that stand, the NAACP fiercely criticized Bush and implied he was a racist. Ironically, two of the three murderers were sentenced to death and the third to life in prison. What would hate crime laws have accomplished?

It seems to me this whole notion of increasing punishment for crimes committed against certain classes of people is downright un-American. It makes us feel better but it accomplishes nothing:

Hate-crime laws combine the touching conservative belief in the unerring efficacy of deterrence (which rises to its absurd and hideous apogee with executions) with the liberal belief that when it comes to particular groups, basic rights may be suspended.

But don’t dare say that or you will be called a bigot, a sexist, a homophobe — even if you believe in laws that will put the perpetrators to death. Oh, I forgot. Lots of people who believe in hate crimes laws are against capital punishment.

Do the crime, then do the time.

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7 Responses to On The Foolishness of Hate Crime Laws

  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting perspective on it. I understand the reasoning on why there is hate crime laws, however, in one sense I agree with the author, if you already have laws that make crimes punishable, why add another layer? Everyone has prejudices, you can't legislate it out. It could take generations to weed it out and it must start with the parents teaching the children that using racist speech and actions are wrong and won't be tolerated.

  2. Terrence McCarthy says:

    Thought provoking, Terry. It's as if someone were to have asked thr three men who dragged James Byrd to his death, " Did you hate him?"If they were all to have said " No, " what difference would it have made. If they were all to have said " Yes, " what difference would it make?They committed murder. That's what they were punished for, and should have been. What was on their minds is irrelevant. People have murdered people they loved. Should there be Love Crimes? I don't think so.

  3. Terrence McCarthy says:

    And how does one go about offering proof, in a court of law, that someone hates or has hated? That people kill people can be determined. Reading minds? Defining " hate? " Good post, Terry. I've given this one much thought today. Might not be making much sense of it, but I'm thinking.

  4. Terry Cowgill says:

    Terrence, as David Byrne used to say, "Stop Making Sense."http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088178/When we get into the business of reading peoples' minds to determine the length of a sentence, then we tread into an area that I think the founders of this nation would recoil from — and that most people, if they thought about it — would be appalled at.I understand the courts already do that to, for example, determine whether it was murder or premeditated murder. But when it comes to hate thoughts, we wander into a completely different realm.

  5. Peter Halle says:

    I'm not sure hate crime legislation is so much about punishing first degree murder, where the perpetrator, if found guilty, is already at the max. I think it is about penalty enhancement for a lesser crime. As to the business of reading minds, that can be tricky or impossible, I agree. But aren't there lots of forms of evidence…statements, witnesses, writing, whatever? I am definitely not a legal scholar or even well acquainted with these laws, so I have no idea if it is worth the effort. But I'd say this – hate crimes are particularly ugly.

  6. Terrence McCarthy says:

    Peter.What if I were to say: I hate you for what you just wrote? How would you go about proving that my hatred was real? Which lawyers would you call to help you prove my " hate." You write: " hates crimes are particularly ugly."I steer you to Norman Mailer's " The Executioner's Song." It's about Gary Gilmore, a psychpath who killed people, and felt nothing. No hate.Were his crimes less ugly, or more ugly, than those committed by people who feel something?

  7. Peter Halle says:

    Terrence, I am not sure which lawyers I'd call, or why I'd call them, or what the crime is. But I get your point – without evidence, criminal guilt is hard to prove. The Gary Gilmore example is so extreme I am not sure of the relative ugliness. But let's take a less extreme one. A drunken 18 year-old burns down a house on a dare vs. a drunken 18 year-old KKK member burns down the house of a black family that moved into a white neighborhood. First degree arson – equal punishment?

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