Friday, October 14, 2005

Hate Crime laws: Anti-Terror legislation, not Thought Crimes

Consider the following scenarios:
  1. A man you do not know kills you just to watch you die.
  2. A man you do not know kills you for your money.
  3. A man you do not know kills you accidentally while in a drug-induced haze.
  4. A person kills you accidentally because they a knife slipped from their hand and flew across the room.
  5. A person assists your suicide.
  6. A person kills you with the intent of intimidating people who are like you.
The outcomes of each of these cases are the same: you are dead. And yet because the motivation is different, our criminal justice system recognizes them as different and may assign different punishments to each. This is why we have first and second degree manslaughter. This is why lawyers spend months proving intent and premeditation. The idea, as floated by some conservative writers, that a law that judges intent is equal to the legislation of a “thought crime” is unserious. Intent is obviously important.

So what of the hate crime? Does it actually warrant different treatment from the criminal justice system? I say it does. A person who commits a regular crime does not necessarily intend to terrorize the general population. A hate criminal doesn’t just commit a crime against a specific person – he commits the extra crime of purposely terrorizing a specific population.

Terror *is* what we’re talking about here. To commit a hate crime it’s not sufficient to merely kill a gay person or other minority. You have to pick out that group in your mind, go to where you can find members of that group, and purposefully bypass others as you head toward your goal. (That's the thing about minorities. They're harder to find.) Oh sure, some criminals may have decided to commit a crime already and figure that while they’re at it they might as well pick a member of some group they hate. Call it “killing two birds with one stone”. Well then, I say let them serve time for both birds when they come home to roost.

Of course we shouldn’t let recognizing the extra terror component of hate crimes lead us to extra penalties on just any crime against a minority. If someone beats up a lesbian without caring about her orientation that person would be an asshole, but I wouldn't call him a homophobe asshole without other information.

Update: changed "knowing" to "caring about" becuase that's what I really meant.


So, is the purpose of the extra punishment deterrence, retribution, both or something else?
The purpose is the same as the punishment of any other other crimes. Depnding on how they structure the pnealty, it could be a bit of both.
That's why we have different degrees of murder.
Would you consider it a hate crime if a minority specifically targeted a white person?

Furthermore, how can we fairly determine whether or not a crime was motivated by hate? Someone could commit a crime with hate on his mind, but no outward manifestation of said hate. Likewise, someone committing a crime could blurt out a racial slur, purely by accident and with no malice intended. Only the latter could be considered a hate crime, even though the former was the one really driven by hate. Doesn't this just complicate an already difficult process?
patr asked, "how can we fairly determine whether or not a crime was motivated by hate?"

Oh, I don't know. Maybe burning a cross on someone's yard who happens to be black resident in an otherwise white neighborhood; or perhaps dragging a man to his screaming and very painful death, chained behind your pickup after you pick him up hitchhiking - a man you didn't know, but who happened to be black; or perhaps shooting people you don't know only because they are black, asian, jewish, etc. Do you think those sorts of things might qualify? I'm guessing that the juries who convicted the perpetrators of those crimes did.
And patr, in case you think I'm making any of this up, you can read about the cases of:

Matthew Sheppard

James Bryd, Jr.

Buford Furrow
Juries decide things all the time. That says nothing about the fairness of a decision. Your post even displays some of this abiguity: "a man you didn't know, but who happened to be black." He happened to be black, and you happened to be a sadistic killer. Who's to say that you weren't going to torture and kill the next hitchhiker you saw, regardless of race?
patr asked, "Who's to say that you weren't going to torture and kill the next hitchhiker you saw, regardless of race?"

I think if you look at the reports of the crimes to which I linked, you might find an answer.

You might also be edified by reports of a Supreme Court argument on a Virginia crossburning law. It included one of the few comments Justice Thomas has made during oral argument.
Those cases are very clearly motivated by racial or homophobic hate, which is why they are the ones usually brought up when arguing hate crime legislation. But other cases are not so clear cut, such as when a perpertrator happens to be of one race and the victim happens to be of anothe, and political pressure and a desire to "send a message" overshadows the crime itself. This is where the "though crime" aspect comes up. How do you expect to uncover his internal motivation?

Whatever the case, if someone commits a crime as heinous as murder, that guy needs to be locked up for life. The fact that he may or may not have been motivated by racial hatred isn't going to change a thing. Let's not just send a message that you shouldn't kill minorities. Let's send a message that you shouldn't kill anyone at all.

That cross burning case is an instance where I disagree with Justice Thomas, who is usually the one I agree with most on the Court.
Dude A goes out and kills everyone he sees.

Dude B goes out and kills every black he sees.

(Let's say the numbers are the same)

As hate crime laws stand now, as I understand them, Dude B is committing a hate crime, while Dude A is not. Still, if the issue is terror, I would think Dude A's actions qualify as well.

If you want a more ambiguous case, look at the Araujo murder. Thinker, the idea of developing laws isn't to apply them to canonical blatantly obvious cases. Subtleties happen in real life, and any attempt to discuss lawmaking needs to consider them.
BAD, Every killer has decided to terrorize the general population, white or black, gay or straight. A person who specifically targetted a group to terrorize is not just scaring people incedentally, he is going out of his way to scare certain people. It's the difference between swerving your car blindly around the interstate and doing so while purpoosfully chasing someone.

As for hate crimes committed by a minority against someone who is not (let's say if some gay guys decided to blow up a building full of straight people) of course that would be a hate crime. And current Hate crime law, I'm pretty sure, recognizes that as such.
But let's look at what really happens in society, not what theoretically the law says. If Person A is black and kills a ton of white people, and person B is white and kills a ton of black people, both BECAUSE the victims are of that race, person A will not be charged with a hate crime and person B will. That's just the way our politically correct society sees things. Either way, both people should be put to death.

I don't think ANY symbolic speech should ever be banned. If you ban cross burnings, you'll also have to ban flag burning, hate speech, swearing, anything someone finds "offensive". I will not be able to say "you throw like a girl," "that's lame", "rule of thumb". Pretty soon, the government will not be telling us what we can't say (which is already bad), but what we CAN say.

And that day comes when Tomasso's blog is censored for being offensive. Then maybe we'll discuss whether any speech should be banned or not. Freedom of speech should be absolute.
If you yell "Fire" in a crowded theatre, you have committed a crime. If you threaten to kill someone in a specific way or time, you have committed a crime. If you and your buddies plan to kill someone next Friday but you get caught before then, you have still committed the crime of conspiracy to commit murder. This isn't some fancy pants "political correctness" (which, now that the Republicans control the entire federal government means the opposite of what it used to mean) but an understanding of clear and present danger. And hate crime is no different: it’s not any less a crime just because a threat is made against a specific group and not a person.

When you burn a cross on someone's lawn you are making a threat just as surely as if you went up to them and said "move out now or I'll kill you". When you purposefully drive to a gay bar to beat up a lesbian you are making a threat against other gays as well and contribute to an atmosphere of terror. In America you can hold any opinion you want and believe any fact you want; but when you starting crossing the line into physical violence, the US does not take that lightly. Not for conspiracy, not for death-threats, and I would argue, not for hate crimes, either.

So let’s be clear here. If you are arguing that “Hate crimes” criminalize though, you might as well argue that distinguishing between manslaughter and murder, first and second degree murder, criminalize thought as well. You are arguing that what people intended to do when they commit a crime should not be taken into account by a jury. That’s something contrary to the entire history of US law and something quite outside the mainstream of American thought.
I should be clear: I think burning a cross on someone's lawn is a pretty sure sign that you are making a specific threat to commit a crime but that's obviously something the a jury will have to decide. I suppose it could be possible that in some places a burning cross is just a neighborly way of expressing one's opinion. Though i doubt it.
TS, if the dude killing every black person in sight is just doing it because he doesn't like black people, rather than because he wants to terrorize black people, is it a hate crime? If the dude killing everyone in sight is doing it because he wants to terrorize everyone, is it a hate crime?
Beetle, you can answer your question checking the definition.
Oh I see. Person A hates black people. Person A decideds to kill all black people he sees. BUT person A doesn't particularly want to terrorize black people.

Oh yeah, that's awesome. That totally makes sense.

I think it's good to think of Hate Crimes as a special case of Terror crimes in general. A Terror crime would be any crime where you intentionally want to terrorize people. A Hate crime is when you terrorize a particular group as opposed to the general population.

A guy who kills 6 people secretly is a horrible murder. A guy like the zodiac killer who kill 6 people in a public way meant to freak people out is a horrible murder *and* commmit the extra crime of terrorization. A guy who kills 6 gays and did so in a way that made sure other gays knew they were next is a horribe murder and a terror crimminal, though specifically of the hate crime variety.
Yes, that actually does make sense, TS. Not everyone is trying to send some grand message with every action they do. He doesn't CARE if he terrorizes black people.
Let questions like that be settled by a jury. I don't have time to pick through every hypothetical question you can come up with. What if Hitler was being blackmailed into killing the jews by aliens who threatened to blow up the planet. I don't know, BAD. I suppose in your hypothetical situation they guy wouldn't have committed a hate crime. So what?

You know, in Sweden they have a saying: "If, If, If. If my grandmother had balls, she'd be my grandfather."
Dude, if you're going to dismiss a situation as totally ridiculous, then don't get your panties in a knot when someone points out that it's not. It wasn't relevant to the main point, but you brought it up.

Your main point is apparently that hate crimes are a kind of terror crime. Which then begs the question, why should we punish hate crimes any differently than terror crimes?
Beetle, had you checked the definitions, you'd see that hate crimes are defined as crimes targeted against people BECAUSE of their "actual or perceived race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability."
As far as I know, we don't cover terror crimes in general. This is probably becuase anybody who set out to do something big enough to terrorize a whole population is going to be looking at so many years in prison (or the death penalty) it hardly matters.

To terrorize gays or muslims or Italian-Americans it's sufficient to beat up one or two of them in a public way. To terrorize the whole population you have to rise to Son of Sam level crimminality. Once you're looking at multiple premeditated murders with no motive it hardly seems worth the effort to slap some extra charges to the rap sheet. Granted, I think we logically should, but I'm not going to spend my time on it.
Thinker, we're talking about the purpose behind hate crime laws, and how they should be defined, considering that. How they currently are defined isn't particularly relevant.
Well Beetle, if you want to ignore history and look at things a priori, you will never get anywhere. Like so much of your argument, it is sophistry pure and simple.
Again, in case you missed it, the topic of this post was discussing hate crime legislation a priori.
Beetle wrote, "the topic of this post was discussing hate crime legislation a priori"

No Beetle, the topic/headline is "Hate Crime laws: Anti-Terror legislation, not Thought Crimes"
This is so awesome.
Wow. You're actually impressed by that, TS? This is why we call you a hack.
That's it Beetle, when reason fails resort to namecalling.
Reason has failed because you don't want to think, as you, too, are a hack. I can read a headline, too. But I can also read the post, which discusses hate crime theory without discussing history.
True Beetle, Tommaso does not discuss the history of hate crime legislation in his post, but he does focus on the legislation and his perception of its purpose. His headline succinctly summarizes his original post.

When I criticized your argument, I was attempting to point out that you were ignoring the intent and definitions in current legislation (the subject of the post) and trying to discuss the value of having hate crime legislation at all. That may be a valuable conversation to have, but it is not the current one; and to come at me for being off topic when you are the one who is attempting to take us off topic is subtle and tricky, which is the definition of sophist argument.
Not to slight Thinker, but I thought we were discussing the motivation behind hate crime legislation so both existing hate crime laws AND a priori ideas about how hate crimes should be understood would be valid topics.

Actually, when I said "Awesome" I was remarking on the conversation in general and not Thinker's comments in particular. It’s entertaining to see someone who insists on never coming to a new understanding without being manually carried over every possible objection (What if a racist kills black people but not because he’s racist?) turn red in the face when he is asked to do the same for someone else. Oh God! You have to actually sit and explain why you don’t think the existing text of hate crimes laws answer your question! Oh no! God forbid you would have to answer a boring question.

Lighten up! It's a blog not a deathmatch!
Post a Comment