Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Concerning Hate Crimes

This century has seen more than its share of ethnicly motivated persecution. Hitler's final solution rendered thinkable government sponsored extermination of "undesired" minorities. From Cambodia to Rwanda to Yugoslavia, we seem to have learned little from our mistakes.
The United States and Canada have been spared the industrialised murder of those deemed unworthy of life. We have however had our share of ethnic bloodshed. The Ku Klux Klan and private hatemongers made the lynching of African Americans a commonplace occurence well past the middle of the twentieth century. Riots in the sixties targeted white owned businesses in African American neighborhoods in what could credibly be called ethnic cleansing. Decent Americans do not want the rampant ethnic strife characteristic of India or Yugoslavia to blight our shores.
A legal attempt to affirm our collective commitment to ethnic understanding has been the passing of hate crimes legislation. The noble intention of these laws has almost taken them beyond the pale of politically permitted debate.
Unfortunately there are serious problems with hate crimes legislation. Hatred can spring forth from any heart. The laws were drafted at a time when attacks on Blacks were frequent. Whites can be and are sometimes the victim of bias attacks. Prosecution of racially motivated attacks on whites as civil rights violations are suspiciously infrequent. What is far more frequent than pure bias crimes are cases where ethnic hatred magnifies the barbarity of the perpetrator towards the victim. I am loathe to leave indignation at such crimes in the dubious custody of white supremacists, whose lip service to defending the downtrodden is often a thinly veiled call for violence.
The underlying flaw of hate crimes legislation is the idea of making thoughts or opinions a crime. It is one thing to dislike a person, and quite another matter to physically attack them.
What would be far better than hate crime legislation would be to examine aggravating and mitigating factors in the various criminal offenses on the books. Self defense is a mitigating factor, and robbery as a motive makes an offense more objectionable, and subject to harsher sentencing. To list bias as an aggravating factor worthy of harsher sentencing than a regular drunken brawl would be a legitimate way to express our collective disapproval of violent manifestations of bigotry. Rather than considering it only as the sole motive for a crime, it could be considered in conjunction with other factors in determining the gravity of an offense. Harmony should be our goal. Tolerance should be our bottom line. But neither harmony nor tolerance can be had at the expense of freedom of thought.

Copyright 2008 by Magdeburger Joe. All Rights reserved

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