Hate-crimes? Yeah, I hate crime

By Lewis J. Goldberg
web posted December 6, 1999

The other day I was having a discussion with an acquaintance about hate-crime legislation. We got to that topic through a larger discussion regarding federal government vs local control. He boasted that without the federal government being the pro-active body that it is, we would not have the prospect of nation-wide hate-crime legislation, he being a person that the proposed legislation would protect. So, instead of offering the obligatory "Amen" that would normally be appropriate when confronted with a comment like his, I asked "why do you think hate-crimes need special treatment?" He went on to explain that he thinks the government should protect the underdog, which sounds fine and dandy...but, at what price?

Yes, of course I want the government to protect the weak as well as the strong. Our constitution states very plainly that we are all created equal, and should receive equal protection under the law. The crimes of late that are fueling the passion for tougher hate-crime legislation, such as the murder of homosexual Matthew Sheppard in Wyoming and the dragging death of James Byrd, a black man in Texas, were already punishable by laws against murder. In November of 1997, President Clinton gave a speech at the White House on hate crime. He cited the examples of a black child nearly beaten to death after riding his bicycle into the 'wrong neighborhood,' a homosexual murdered as he walked home from work, an Asian who's store was firebombed, and a synagogue emblazoned with swastikas by a hateful vandal's spray can. All these are punishable under existing laws.

While my friend's arguments were persuasive, they ignore the other possibility about crime and punishment. That being, maybe our punishments are simply too lenient all the way around. Proponents of hate-crime legislation suggest that a message be sent to any would-be committers of acts of hate: "We will not tolerate this." Fine, let's not. But what makes one group of people more 'protectable' than another? Should not the answer be that we are all worthy of equal and diligent protection, and, if so, shouldn't the penalties for all crimes be made stiffer so as to afford that equal protection? What I suggest here is that all penalties for all crimes may simply be too lenient. So, rather than create a separate class of people to protect at a higher level, why not raise the bar for everyone. Are we all not worthy of being protected to the greatest extent?

Proponents of hate-crime legislation continue to push their agenda through revision of the 1969 federal hate-crimes law (18 U.S.C. Section 245). This law, they say, does not go far enough because sexual orientation is not included and because it only is in effect when the victim is at school, at work, or four other federally protected activities. At the state level, eight states have no hate-crime legislation at all and another 22 have no provision in their laws for sexual orientation. Supporters want the federal law strengthened to plug the gaps left by the states, and feel that the tendency for local law enforcement to ignore crimes against unpopular segments of society would be overcome. However, the proposed tougher laws will create a new, federally unpopular segment of society, the white Christian. This trend has already begun, evidenced by the media's collective abrogation of the death of Jesse Dirkhising, a 13 year-old straight boy tortured and murdered by two homosexuals...just for fun. Homosexuals are politically popular, just as racists were politically popular in another age, so the institutions of public opinion dare not cross their new 'massas.' To do so would be anti-gay.

My theory is that if the hate-crimes legislation advocates were truly interested in giving the weakest members of society, they would be fighting to strengthen the laws to protect us all. Instead, what they seek to accomplish will further divide and segment our already fragmented society. It is no wonder that racism, sexism, and a host of other '-isms' still linger when we have our national politicians and media personalities showing us how it's done.

Lewis J. Goldberg, who lives in Missouri, is a management consultant and systems analyst for a major consulting firm in Maryland. He runs PlanetGoldberg, a conservative web site.

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