Lance Morrow hates hate-crime legislation
June 16, 2000 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Lance Morrow hates hate-crime legislation
Does it really matter what the criminal's intent was? Is killing someone because of hate really worse than just killing someone? Should the government be telling us how to think?
posted by daveadams (16 comments total)
I think Lance summed it up better than I could have.
posted by daveadams at 8:27 AM on June 16, 2000

I can see how this snowball got started down the hill, years ago. If someone murders an African-American, Jewish person or homosexual in a community with prejudice as the primary motive, it does a special kind of injustice to all members of the community who belong to that group. Intent does matter in crimes -- planning to kill someone and carrying it out is a lot more serious than unintentionally and thoughtlessly doing something that results in a death.

Now that the snowball is an avalanche, though, it seems like prosecutors and politicians are trying to make everything into a hate crime so they can get longer sentences and make bigger headlines. I would like to see hate-crime prosecution reserved for the rare instances in which the perpetrator intended to create a public climate of fear in the group the victim belonged to, and did the crime primarily for that reason.
posted by rcade at 9:18 AM on June 16, 2000

rcade: I disagree. I don't care if someone hates me, I do care if they murder me. It is disrespectful to victims that someones intent make someone elses murder more important than their own. All crime happens on some level due to a lack of respect, and on some level every crime is a hate crime. You cannot quantify that injury done to a target community, anymore than you can speculate the damage done by a "senseless" murder on the little old lady who lives next door to the crime scene. Hate crimes are thought crimes, and to support them is to court facism.
posted by thirteen at 9:39 AM on June 16, 2000

If a murderer hates you personally and kills you for it, I don't have anything to worry about. If a murderer hates you because of a group you belong to, and I belong to the same group, I have something to worry about. That's the reasoning behind hate crimes. I can understand some of the logic behind this category of criminal justice (though as I said, it's painted far too broadly, primarily for political gain).

As for "thought crimes," a person's intent is always given strong consideration in a criminal trial -- look at the distinction between murder and manslaughter. Saying hate should never be considered in sentencing is as bad as the present situation.
posted by rcade at 11:08 AM on June 16, 2000

Hate crime criminalizes thought rather than conduct. Such laws punish people because of their point of view. Such laws also varies punishment according to the victim's characteristics, which goes against every person is equal under the law.

Hate cannot be legislated away, neither can stupidity.
posted by brent at 11:13 AM on June 16, 2000

By the definition rcade has given, hate crimes are already covered by murder charges, and held separate from manslaughter. Should we arrest people who openly hate as a preventative measure since they are more likely to commit hate crimes? They are already commiting the lion share of the offense the law proposes they be punished for. Punish the crime without pity, don't worry about why. All victims deserve extreme justice.
posted by thirteen at 12:02 PM on June 16, 2000

"Hate crimes" continue to encourage - and even enforce - a separation between the "hated" group and "everybody else" by treating crimes against them as somehow different or worse. There's a simple solution, as Thirteen pointed out: if the punishment for murdering a gay man and thinking, "I hate fags" is life in prison without parole, then simply make the punishment for murdering ANY man - without regard to the sexual preference of the victim or the thought process of the killer - to life in prison without parole. Everybody treated equally...
posted by m.polo at 12:20 PM on June 16, 2000

This is such a red herring. Hate crime laws were enacted to have a way to charge someone even when other laws didn't apply. Clearly it's pointless to consider one murder "worse" than any other because of a hateful intent.

Many hate crimes are perpetrated by demonstrably profoundly disturbed people. For them, no law would have been sufficient.
posted by dhartung at 1:56 PM on June 16, 2000

Three things to consider, and then some free form thought babble at the end.
  1. First, and most importantly, there are hate crimes other than murder.
  2. For congress to consider a hate crimes bill while many of their own policies encourage hate seems troublesome at best.
  3. I find it interesting that some of the same politicians who say a hate crimes bill wouldn't be a deterrent are the same ones who say the death penalty is.
While I'm not sure where I stand on the idea of a hate crimes bill, this idea of a new kind of 'thought policing' is total rubbish. It's about intent. There are plenty of laws that (fairly or unfairly) hand out different sentences depending on the intent of the perpetrator. Say you've punched someone in the face. Take these four different scenarios.
  1. You're in a bar and a brawl breaks out that you don't start, but you participate.
  2. You really hate your boss so you wait outside the office until he comes out and you sock him.
  3. Your wife doesn't make dinner and time.
  4. Someone asks you up for 'a drink', and you get freaked out and sock 'em.
Each of the above is treated different in the criminal justice system. A spontaneous assault is different than a premeditated assault. And until very recently, numbers three and four were usually considered beneath the notice of the courts, (and that's often still the case, just not 'official policy').

I definitely think there should be some kind of law set up to deal with those who 'intend to create a public climate of fear'. As for individual bigots who act out their aggression ... double jeopardy makes that a much more troublesome proposition.

posted by alana at 2:37 PM on June 16, 2000

The whole point of a free society is that ideas, both good and bad, get exchanged and people as a whole benefit from it. The catch is that you can't separate the good ones from the bad.

The effects of one good idea are worth tolerating 100 bad ones. Let’s all reflect back to a time when Galileo was put under house arrest for years just for saying the Earth revolved around the Sun.

Censoring thoughts (through hate crime legislation) leads to censoring speech. And censoring speech leads to censoring actions. We may all feel **safer**, but our lives will be immeasurably diminished.

Here’s a thought - if you’re concerned that you might be the victim of a hate crime (or any crime for that matter):
1. Get your butt on a treadmill so you can run like hell
2. Learn kung-fu like Keanu so you can kick some ass
3. Get a gun and learn how to use it (**gasp** what will Rosie O’Donnell think!!)
4. Use your brain and figure out other ways to protect yourself.

posted by vitaminb at 2:57 PM on June 16, 2000

Should there be different levels of hate crime punishment, each only a little more severe than the standard crime it is equal to? The guy who freaks out and punches a black guy at random who did not plan it? The guy who plans to go out and murder a specific gay man because he lives in his neigbhorhood. This is a new catagory of thought crime, because we already have laws that punish any aspect of criminal behavior. These guys who go crazy and shoot people are not released when the police find out the criminal hated the victim and unfortunatly there is no law to cover that new and unusual situation. Murderers are murders, vandels are vandels. These people are charged with the crimes that they commited. We can never know how well anything can act as a deterrent, because there is no way to count uncommited crimes. I have always thought of the death penality as a punishment. People do not pass laws for the criminals, we pass them for ourselves. Are we serving ourselves by saying some peoples suffering is worth more than others? We are allowed to hate each other, we are not allowed to violate each other. I maintain that there is not aspect of crime, other than emerging tech, that cannot be coverd by our existing laws. Should there be a lesser penality for a non-hate crime? That is the other side of the argument, and it cheapens the justice served to non-hated victims.
For the gristmill, what do you propose be the punishment for creating a climate of fear? If that climate is created by leafleting, should we limit free speach? In Illinois this activity has been attacked with anit-littering law. Meanaceing groups in the neigbhorhood? They will be dispursed quickly by the police. Random shooting? These are already on the books. I am meanaced by ordinary crime to a much greater degree. Why don't we make it a super crime if you happen to be in a gang? All rape should be a hate crime, shouldn't it? It isn't.
Lastly, what if the criminal disagrees and claims you have misinterpreted his motivations? Can we prove we know what goes on in someones head if they will not admit to it?
I see people wondering about the application of hate crimes, and why they seem to be random in their punisment. This undermines peoples confidence in the law.
posted by thirteen at 3:21 PM on June 16, 2000

Is it the /A tag that makes my type kick over like that? I am very sorry I mess up the look of the page all the time.
posted by thirteen at 3:23 PM on June 16, 2000

I wrote a 'rant' about this subject back in October of 1998. Here's a quote from it:
Is a child molestor who picks his victim at random *less* of a criminal than a skinhead? Is an 11-year old girl who is sexually assaulted and murdered *less* of a valuable life than James Byrd or Matthew Shepard?
For the entire article click HERE
posted by webwide at 9:36 PM on June 17, 2000

hmmm.....can't get the html right.....just go here
posted by webwide at 9:38 PM on June 17, 2000

Is a child molestor who picks his victim at random *less* of a criminal than a skinhead? Is an 11-year old girl who is sexually assaulted and murdered *less* of a valuable life than James Byrd or Matthew Shepard?

Is an 11-year-old girl who is sexually assaulted and murdered *more* of a valuable life than a 20-year-old woman who is sexually assaulted and murdered? If you go by the way these murderers are sentenced, yes. Criminal justice is filled with value judgments about victims who are more important than other victims. You may not agree with using hate as one of those judgments, but the idea that all victims are the same in the eyes of the courts -- save for hate crimes -- is not true.
posted by rcade at 12:52 AM on June 18, 2000

I have no facts reguarding the sentencing of crimes commited on children. I recall people lamenting that the punishments were not harsh enough. Instead of fighting to preserve and even strengthen the differences in the standard of justice, why don't we work to bring the same justice to everyone. People will accept this, they will resent hearing about people being punished to a greater extent for identical crimes. To address your question, we have a whole different set of laws that deal with children, and they have fewer rights in our society. The idea that we need to protect our children is a gut level decision. I do not think this is a value call, children are not yet able to be responsible for themselves, and people can take advantage of their innocence. All murderers should die, if you wanna go cruel and unusual on people commiting hate crimes, that is fine with me, but you have to realize that the families of the people you do not give that extra bit of vengence to, are going to be pissed at you for not allowing that same satisfaction.
posted by thirteen at 10:30 AM on June 18, 2000

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