Hate Crime

August 18, 2009

I ran across this article a while back. It talks about adding homeless people to the list of those protected by hate crime laws.

This struck me as odd. What separates a hate crime from a non-hate crime? It seems that a hate crime is motivated by a hatred for some aspect of the victim that is shared by a group. Creating a new class of crime with heightened punishments is justified because this attack is an attack not just on the individual but on the community that shares the hated aspect. Thus, it is particularly harmful.

Obviously, this is a gray area. It seems to me, that this would be best left up to judges, who can consider the individual factors of each case. A hate motivated killing will ripple through the targeted community, causing distress. However, a non-hate motivated murder will too.

Let’s say a mugging goes bad. A person is killed. That person’s family and friends are affected. If that person belongs to a worship group, they are affected. Coworkers, neighbors, and more are affected.

The difference between the two is that in hate case, the targeted group feels threatened more than the non-targeted groups and the groups in the non-hate case. This feeling of fear is stressful and detrimental to the targeted group. Thus, the hate crime does do more damage by assaulting not just an individual but a group. Therefore, it should be punished accordingly.

That said, the question of motive is a thorny one. Few of us know what our motives are day to day. Who is to say that he can accurately judge the motives of someone else?

Hate crimes should be on the books, but they should be thoughtfully applied. There must be a community that feels threatened by the crime, and the crime must have been hate-motivated. For the case of crimes against the homeless, I don’t know if there is a genuine community of homeless. Expansion of hate law in this case seems to be blurring the line further.

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