Thursday, April 12, 2007

Are Hate Crimes Laws Just?

This is part of a reply I wrote to my friend Mel, a conservative Christian, a Republican, and future doctor, on the Ex Isle Message Board. We were discussing the House vote scheduled for later today.
Mel: Clearly it's wrong for people to be given less protection by police, judges, and juries because of the color of the skin, their sexual orientation, or any other reason. And clearly that happens. I just don't see how the solution for an attitude that some murders aren't as important as others is actual legislation saying that some murders are more important than others.
I don't think hate crimes laws *do* say that. They say that the punishment should fit the crime. Murder 1 is different than Murder 2. *Double* murder is, in many places, a death penalty predicate. By your logic, shouldn't they just be charged with murder twice? Why the *added* penalty?

Answer: because the fact that *two* people were killed mkes it worse.

I think the same applies to hate crimes. The fact that someone is targeted for his race, ethnicity, religion or orientation makes the crime worse--especially if it is part of an epidemic of similar crime--and so the penalty should be enhanced. Excluding orientation from the list is especially bitter because there is just such an epidemic, often in the places you'd least expect it.

Last June, a pack of 7 men staked out The Phoenix, a gay bar I've been known to hang out at about six blocks from here. These were local kids -- 16-19 years old. A couple of them lived right up the street from me.

They stalked Kevin Aviance as he left the bar, and then they beat him and robbed him, shouting anti-gay slurs throughout, so their victim would have no doube why they were breaking his bones.

They did it because he was gay. By their own admission.

If he hadn't looked gay to them, they would've let him go and waited for someone else who did to come out of the bar.

New York State law recognizes that there is something more heinous about this kind of assault than if they had chosen their victim purely at random. I sleep comforted at night knowing that these men will be spending more years behind bars because of that law.

But I also wonder which of the other 3, the 3 they didn't get, I might be walking past on the street when I leave The Phoenix and head home at 2AM.

And I'm not alone. Every gay person has to live with that fear. At any time, one of those people could decide to come for us. They could use fists and bats, like they did with Kevin Aviance, or they might use fire, or guns, or even bombs.

Hate crimes laws are tools to combat these epidemics no matter how they manifest--because members of any group can end up targeted in this way given the right set of circumstances.

But the fact is, at the moment, this kind of thing is happening to us as much as, if not more than, to any of the groups already covered by this law. Ironic, isn't it? Here we have the very tool Federal prosecutors use to combat this kind of thing, only they're not allowed to use it to when these crimes are committed against us. They can use it when these crimes happen to Jews. And Muslims. And blacks. Even whites. Handicapped people are totally covered. But not gays.

Huh. You'd almost think we were a hated minority group or something.


Blogger wembley said...

I hang out on Ex Isle. The lack of progressive thought there freaks me the fuck out. I can't ever go to OT; every time I go, I just sit and gawk. I'm a hell of a lot more comfortable talking politics on the Girl Wonder forums, which I'm sure doesn't come as a surprise.

I respect the hell out of you for stating your point so clearly and so eloquently, and for taking the time to argue so intelligently in OT. I seriously don't have the strength.

The people on EI all seem like good-hearted folks, but some of the political opinions just... make me extremely sick in my heart.

4/14/07, 10:20 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

what a nice thing to say -- *Thank you* (Who are you on EI?)

4/15/07, 8:02 PM  
Anonymous Franzl said...

it is also a question of the resources available to local law enforcements investigating a bias-crime getting federal assistance

4/18/07, 3:31 PM  

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