Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Hate Crime versus Mundane Crime?

In the ridiculousness of the current nutter rallying cry that adding sexual orientation, gender, and disability to the list of "hate crimes" would somehow prevent Christians from categorizing homosexuality as a sin, an entirely separate debate over whether or not there should even be a category of "hate crimes" separate from mundane crimes has gotten swept under the rug.

It's an interesting argument, popular amongst many libertarians. Basically, the thought is that all crimes ( and criminals) should be treated equally by the law and not given special treatment because of the motivation for the crime. To some extent, I think, it's also rooted in the belief that most acts of violence against another individual are rooted in some sort of hate -- every crime is a hate crime. This article from Reason Magazine is just one of the first one's I pulled up. It's succint and sums up the formulations, I've heard.

And, if you limit the system in which a crime occurs (can you tell I've been in a physics class for a month?) to only the attackers and the directly affected victim, that argument has a point. In isolation one murder, or one beating, is directly equivalent to any other murder or beating regardless of the motivations behind them. However, crime does not happen in isolation.

The distinct nature of a hate crime, at least from where I'm standing, is that the intended victim of the crime is not a single individual. The average murderer only intends to affect a single person, whoever his or her target is. The motivation might be revenge, curiosity, a simple dislike of the victim's face, whatever, but the muderer only intends to kill one person, and that's that. The intention of a hate crime is vastly different.

The intended victim of a hate crime is not an individual but a community of individuals. The intention is not to kill or hurt the specific victim, but to send a message to the community to which the victim is perceived to have belonged and of which the victim has become a representative to the perpretrators. The criminals intend to show victim's community (or perceived community) what they'd like to do every member. They're communicating a message of "this is what we do to blacks," or "this is what happens to sissy-boys," or "to dykes," or "to Jews," or "to Sikhs," or "to women who don't know their place," or to any other group. And, unfortunately, the expanded intention of the criminal is frequently acheived. The community of the directly affected individual is also affected. A crime such as this is a terrorist act, intended not just to harm a single individual but also to cause an entire community or group of people to live in fear. The designation of an act as a "hate crime" is intended to recognize the expanded scope of the victims of an act and respond accordingly. The increase in the harshness of punishment is related to the motivation of the crime only in that the motivation is linked to the fact that damage has been done to an entire community rather than to a single person.


Dw3t-Hthr said...

I tend towards the suspicion that hate crimes would do better as a separate charge rather than an enhancement on the one -- so one for the beating/murder/etc., one for the terroristic act.

WordK said...

Actually, that would be a great separation. It would clear up a lot of the confusion.