Monday, April 20, 2009

Hate crimes

Hate-crime legislation on both state and federal levels is increasingly in the news. I believe that the pro and con arguments both have considerable weaknesses.

One issue that I have with hate-crime laws is that they deflect the focus away from the harm suffered by the individual victim and onto an affront to a group. While I have heard the argument that an attack motivated by homophobia or transphobia instills fear in an entire group, so does a drive-by shooting in an impoverished neighborhood. I have also heard the argument that hate-crime laws put police, prosecutors, and juries on notice that they should not trivialize violence just because of bigotry against the victim of that violence. Nonetheless, if police, prosecutors, and juries all too often feel free to nullify even laws against premeditated murder, are hate-crime laws not just another law for them to nullify? Perhaps a better response would be something analogous to rape-shield laws combined with increased use of civil lawsuits. Finally, any federal hate-crime laws would plainly have to comply with the Tenth Amendment, or they would meet the same fate as the Violence Against Women Act.

On the other hand, the most commonly advanced arguments against hate-crime laws are nothing short of disingenuous. Insofar as hate-crime laws concerning sexual orientation create thought crimes, so do hate-crime laws concerning things such as religion. I have yet to hear why Baptist hatred for LGBT people deserves special protection that Baptist hatred for Catholics does not.

No comments: