Wednesday, February 15, 2006

HATING hate crime!

Hate crime legislation rears its head again, in Northern Ireland. The question that needs answering, of course, is what exactly is accomplished by hate crime legislation? Let me boil down what it means to be guilty of a "hate crime." Say someone beats a black man. The underlying beating is a "battery," which, if convicted of such battery, will result in a certain amount of jail time. Hate crime laws ratchet up the amount of time that is spent behind bars for exactly the same crime committed without hate crime laws. The key difference is that hate crime laws say the motivation for the beating/killing/pick pocketing/what have you makes that particular crime worse on society. This brings to mind the question over what the purpose of laws are. Are they to criminalize thought, or to punish bias? Should we enact higher punishments for what are essentially thought crimes? After all, Bush, in one of his lucid moments, did note that murder itself is a hate crime. There is also the question of overpunishment. This will occur when the crime for battery + hate crime is so high, that there is very little difference between the punishment for battery + hate crime and murder. And so, hate crime laws could have the unintended effect of causing people to commit a murder where they would have merely beaten the person. Would Matthew Shephard have lived, had there been a hate crime law? The answer is not so clear. I have yet to see any statistics that prove hate crime laws are effective in deterring hate crime - just as I have yet to see any statistics that prove the death penalty deters murder. It seems clear to me that the only real way to combat hate crimes is to change the culture that perpetuates hate in the first place. This is a far more difficult task than enacting these hate crime laws, which seem to resemble rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titantic.

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