Hate crimes have been around for thousands of years. Infamous examples are among many others the Roman persecution of Christians, the Nazi “final solution” for the Jews and in recent times, the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia and the genocide in Rwanda. These bias motivated crimes targeted primarily groups of people based on race, religion, ethnicity or even political affiliation. Hate crimes differ somewhat from conventional crimes because they are not just directed at an individual but groups or classes of people.
Over time, hate crime legislation has become law at the Federal and State levels throughout America and is part of its judicial system. Its application has contributed greatly to prevent massive retaliatory crimes between groups, especially minorities. Yet there are many examples in our history where hate crimes resulted in major retaliatory reaction to such crimes, for instance, the reaction of the black community in Los Angeles resulting in major riots when the White Police officers were found innocent by a jury following the beating of Rodney King, a black motorist.
The United States Supreme Court has found that penalty-enhancement hate crime statutes do not conflict with free speech rights because they do not punish an individual for exercising freedom of expression; they allow courts to consider motive when sentencing a criminal for conduct which is not protected by the First Amendment.
The arguments against hate crime legislation are equally strong in that opponents claim that perpetrators of the same criminal act should not be treated differently because they hold different beliefs and motives. There are many more strong arguments against hate crime application in that crimes such as murder, rape, assault, robbery and vandalism have always been illegal and therefore subject to prosecution. Is it not true that all violent crimes are the result of the perpetrator’s contempt for the victim? To prosecute some people more harshly for the same crime based on who the victim is could be considered unequal treatment under the law, which violates the United States Constitution.
Let’s take some examples: A white man breaks into two houses on a given street and rapes a woman in each home. Since one of the women is black, he can receive a stiffer penalty for that particular rape compared to the other one where the woman was white, right? The same question could be asked if a burglar breaks into two houses and steals valuables in each of them. Since a Mexican family owns one of the homes, he gets a more severe penalty for stealing their property based on hate crime statutes, right?
Opponents of hate crime laws also argue that it easily could lead to further divisiveness in the country and that it does not help in bringing the different ethnic and racial groups together. They further fear that additional hate crime legislation could eventually lead to more infringement of free speech and religion. Could religious practices become subject to government regulations when a preacher somewhere speaks out against gays and lesbians in his Sunday sermon? Would this be a violation of the separation of church and state?
Enter Congress or more specifically, Senator Ted Kennedy who has managed to add an amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization bill that will broaden current Federal Hate Crime legislation (since he apparently could not see it pass as stand-alone legislation). This bill expands current law to include not only crimes motivated by the victim’s race, religion, or national origin, but also the physical disability and in particular, sexual orientation. This particular hate crimes bill is named after Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college student who was found beaten to death nine years ago. Republican Senator John Cornyn from Texas has argued against the inclusion of such amendment in the Defense bill and we quote: “All crimes of violence are crimes of hate. All ought to be judged according to the same criteria. All ought to be subject to the same range of punishment, given to juries able to convict people based on evidence produced in court and not based on the politically correct notion that some crimes are more heinous than others.”
Regardless of the political outcome of this legislation, we here at ‘Back to Common Sense’ think that all crimes are illegal and should be prosecuted in accordance with the full force of the law. But then again, we, the people of this great country have allowed our elected officials to doodle with legislation whereby we now have hate crime applications for everything that is happening in the judicial system. It is maybe well intended but it does not serve the people as a whole in that it keeps us divided in ethnic, religious, race and lifestyle groups. Is it not interesting to witness in times of emergencies that whites help and support blacks, blacks help and support whites and all other groups do the same thing? In times of despair and tragedy, we are truly one people in America and united as the aftermath of September 11, 2001, showed us. We all were Americans, displayed the American flag proudly regardless of our racial, religious or other backgrounds, preferences and lifestyles.
For that same reason, we should be one people when it comes to crime! No person should even think that some crimes committed against another person of another racial or any other group should be considered less criminal in nature! Nobody should ever condone crime, no matter the circumstances or motivation! Nobody should ever look at a crime to determine whether or not it was a Hate Crime, all crimes are hate crimes!
We do not believe that hate crime legislation deters or stop crimes, period. Let us continue to prosecute, convict and sentence all criminals equally under the Constitution of this country in accordance with the full extent of criminal justice.
This article and others on Back to Common Sense are designed to provoke further thought and investigation. It is not the intent for the articles to be politically biased. Sources are referenced in each article to encourage readers to delve into the supporting material. We welcome all readers to participate with their point of view either in support or contrary with additional information sources.