Clarification is needed to explain why hate crimes deserve special prosecution when some would argue that a crime is a crime, so why give special treatment to some groups.
All violent crimes are heinous but hate crimes are different. They target not only an individual but the entire population the individual represents. Hate crimes send a message to a population that it is in danger of similar acts of violence and hate.
Hate-crime laws emerged out of America’s outrage at the actions of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and others whose pleasure was to terrorize people they found unacceptable.
Our American sense of fairness is assaulted when someone of a particular religion or race is a target of hate violence simply because of who he or she is. Hate crime legislation communicates to the haters that society does not tolerate this behavior. Most Americans support national and state laws calling for prosecution of hate crimes.
It is a misunderstanding that such laws give special justice to certain groups. Many will recall the race riots in south central Los Angeles years ago and the appalling image on live TV of a white truck driver pulled from his vehicle and hit in the head with a chunk of concrete by a black man. Few will remember that the attacker was prosecuted under California’s hate-crimes law for his violence against the white driver. The language “on account of race” protects people of all races, just as “on account of religion” protects people of all religions.
Others ask how can we possibly interpret the perpetrator’s motivation? That issue is addressed every day in murder cases when prosecutors ask juries to determine whether a death was manslaughter or rises to the intention of first-degree or second-degree murder. The prosecution and sentence hinge on decisions about motivation.
Most hate crimes involve beatings or other acts of violence short of murder. A fistfight in a bar may be a crime but not a hate crime. Beating up someone because of race and writing racial epithets on their unconscious body would be a hate crime.
Violence against homosexuals has its own name as a sport called gay bashing. Police and prosecutors have, until recently, largely ignored violence against homosexuals. Indeed, historically, the police themselves have participated in violent raids on gay clubs to harass and intimidate gays.
Waking up to the injustice of hate violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people, responsible citizens petition to have sexual orientation added to existing hate crime laws. Some 80 percent of Americans support adding sexual orientation to laws on the books.
Today’s opposition to hate-crime laws is new, appearing to be a tactic to avoid including language protecting people “regardless of sexual orientation.” Let the opponents be reminded that this language would also protect heterosexuals from marauding gangs of violent homosexuals.