Is Hate a Crime?

     Bookworm is taking the weekend off, so  I’m hoping in with one of my questions.  I’ve been thinking a lot about hate speech and hate crimes since the Imus nonsense and the whole idea puzzles me. 

     Is hate a crime?  Senators Kennedy and Smith are introducing a new hate crimes bill.   NOW is all excited.  But does it really matter whether, when a person commits a violence act against another person, the criminal is motivated by hate of an individual or a group?  Isn’t the violent act punishable enough?

     Colleges all over the country are trying to ban hate speech.   One would think that college campuses would be bastions of free speech of all kinds, even hate speech, but not so.  To its credit, even the ACLU opposes such bans.  What does it say about what our kids are learning that so many schools support such bans anyway? 

     While we’re at it, should Imus have lost his job?  I don’t think he necessarily should have lost his job simply for making a bad joke, however crude.  But, just as he has a right to his speech, his sponsors have a right to decide not to sponsor his speech.  And his bosses have a right to fire him, rather than lose revenues or listeners because of his speech.  And, by the way, I have no problem with people calling on him to be fired (or not fired).  They are only exercising their free speech rights as well. 

     Anyway, what do the readers of the Bookwormroom think about hate crimes and hate speech?  Is hate a crime?  Should it be?

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  • Heather

    I find designating some crimes as “hate crimes” redundant. Is not most crime motivated by hate? Surely all murderers have some hate in their hearts. Someone who robs a 7-Eleven is not exactly a loving, peaceful, considerate person. Perhaps we should use the term “racial/sexual orientation hated crime.” But that’s too awkward, of course.

  • Thomas

    Mr. Don Quixote,

    I think “Hate Crimes” was a very bad idea from the very start. I think we should focus more in on habeas corpus than on intention. If a person commits a crime, okay, then under the law a person should be held accountable. Of course, I would also give the caveat that should there are mitigating factors, it should be factored in during the sentencing. Heck, I’m even in favor letting a fella go free if the mitigating factor is strong enough to negate culpability.

    But Hate is an emotion, and the idea that a man’s punishment should be augmented because of an emotion is ludicrous off the top. I would venture a guess that lots of murders of passion happen because, in the moment, there’s a lot of hate going on. And so what? You’ve already got a crime; just charge him for that.

    The idea of a Hate Crime, to me, is nothing more than yet another attempt at PC thought control. If you have a crime, racially motivated or not, prosecute it. If the crime is particular heinous, we have the death penalty. You can’t hurt a guy more than executing him. So, what’s the point of a Hate Crime?

  • ymarsakar

    Don’t follow Europe.

  • highlander

    What distinguishes a “hate” crime from an “ordinary” crime?

    I think in most people’s minds it is that a hate crime is impersonal. It’s motivated by animosity toward a particular group rather than an individual, the group usually defined by their ethnic identity, gender or gender preference.

    Is the crime any more heinous or society any more endangered if the perpetrator knew the victim only as a member of some particular group?

    I don’t think so. If that were so, then knocking over a liquor store ought to be classified as a hate crime against liquor store owners.

  • judyrose

    The purpose of hate crime legislation is to criminalize thoughts. A person should be free to love or hate or be indifferent. Motivation shouldn’t be a factor. Only conduct should be subject to laws, and only when another person is physically or financially harmed. Hurt feeling don’t count. Oh yes, and stay off my property if you’re not invited. The nanny state, the thought police, are totally outside the proper realm of government.

  • judyrose

    As for Don Imus, he can be fired for being a horse’s patoot if that’s what listeners conclude and stop listening. It’s a commercial enterprise. Ratings count. I never listened to the guy, so I have no idea if he’s entertaining or not. His bosses have the right to fire him if advertisers start running in the other direction. There are lots of reasons why a radio host can be fired. But please, let’s not set Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson up as the arbiters of what can be spoken aloud in this country. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black (pardon me). Both of them have spewed enough hate in their undistinguished careers to win the “Patoot of the Year” award many times over.

  • JJ

    It is another in a long line of dumb-ass government impositions. Murder is murder is murder: it isn’t somehow “worse,” or “different,” or “more heinous” because there was an element of what somebody regards as “hate” involved.

    Plus the fact the locution sounds like something someone dreamed up at a third grade recess: “hate crime” – what kind of way is that for adults to speak?

  • Marguerite

    Hate crime: So now someone can go to jail for what someone else thinks they’re thinking? Hate speech: Someone was mean and said something that I don’t agree with so they should go to time out.

  • Southern Spirit

    Hello, “Sentors Kennedy and Smith introducing a new hate crimes bill”.I wonder, who’s definition of hate ? A Republicans version? A Democrates version? A 70 year olds version? A 16 year olds verson? A American citizens version? A legal resident of another countrys version? WHAT A LEGAL NIGHTMARE !!! Per “Scholastic Childrens Dictionary(new and updated)”,”copyright 2002″. Hate-“To dislike or detest someone or something”. Hateful-“Horrible.Denzel is hateful to his younger brother.” Hate is an emotion.A crime is a crime.Example:I hate my alarm clock(emotion).Beating the hell out of my husband with my alarm clock (crime).

  • Jodi

    Speech is not a crime unless it incites violence. Imus did not incite violence, what he said was wrong, but not unlawful.
    On his firing: he lost sponsors because of his rhetoric and without sponsors you don’t have revenue, so the writing is on the wall there. Had sponsors stuck with him I think he’d still have a job.

  • expat

    All of this actionism is stupid. If we fail to instill in young people a strong sense of honor, decency, and fairness as part of what it means to be a respected adult in our society, then we fail period. And the fairness must include the expectation of fair treatment from others. Sharpton is not fair and should be told so.

  • Zhombre

    I’m not a lawyer and don’t want to be one or pretend to be one. But to me defining a hate crime takes into account what the motive or intention was during commission of a felony. That may be an aggravating factor if the crime committed was instigated because of an animus against and desire to intimidate a certain class of individuals, and that should be taken into account in determining guilt and the harshness of the sentence, but I don’t see the wisdom in making motive into a separate class of felony. If a black family moves into my neighborhood and some guy torches their house because he doesn’t like black people, that’s a hate crime by most definitions; but if I’m friendly with that black family and he torches my house is that a hate crime or ordinary arson?

  • Don Quixote

    Good comments, all, but we seem to pretty much agree here (though Zhombre’s last comment makes a nicely nuanced point). I’d really like to hear from Bookwormroom readers who support hate crime and hate speech laws & rules. How can such laws against speech and motives be squared with a society which prides itself on permitting people to believe and speak as they please? I make no secret of the fact that I don’t think it can be done, but I’d happily read any efforts to.

    Jodi, I think you are right. The networks have taken some heat for waiting so long to fire Imus, but I think they waited because they were responding to market forces, not Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

  • Jauhara al kafirah

    “Please don’t hurt me! Take my wallet, anything, just don’t hurt me!”
    “I love money, therefore I will take your money. But you’re a white chick, I’m a white guy….you’re hot, I’m horny, I think I’ll grab me a little “love” from you as well….and honey, when I’m done with you, I’m gonna love killing you.

    …so what’s all this nonsense about hate?

  • Wolf

    Scenario 1: You run me over in the parking lot because the sun was in your eyes. You’re horrified by what you’ve done, you apologize, and you pay my medical expenses.

    Scenario 2: You hate a certain group of people, you believe I am a member of that group, so you deliberately speed up and run me over. You’re unrepentant and say that the only thing you’re sorry about is that you didn’t manage to kill me.

    I’m in the hospital with broken bones either way, but surely there’s an added emotional component in the second scenario that isn’t present in the first.

    Does my emotional or psychological pain matter? Sure, why not? Civil law already recognizes a cause of action for both the intentional and the unintentional infliction of emotional distress. Is there a good reason for not extending that recognition to the criminal law as well in particularly egregious cases? (“Egregious cases” would be those involving groups that have historically been discriminated against and crimes that would not have occurred but for the identity of the victim.)

  • Jauhara al kafirah

    One is an accident, the other is premeditated, which I guess is the very definition of hate.

  • judyrose

    “Egregious cases would be those involving groups that have historically been discriminated against…”

    Are we back to that old argument that people in minority groups can’t be racists? What about the Hispanic or Black guy who kills a white person just to get back at “the man?” Hate crime? Not a hate crime? Are minorities to be given an exemption?

    By the way, events ruled as accidents are not crimes at all, and such examples don’t shed any light on this discussion.

  • Don Quixote

    Hi Wolf,

    Thanks for your examples. Try these:

    Scenario #1: I find my wife cheating on me. I’m angry at the world. Rather than killing my wife, I speed away. I see you crossing the street and because I’m mad at the world (but not because of anything about you in particular) I run you down. You die.

    Scenario #2: I rob a bank. As I jump into my get-away care I see you crossing in front of me, blocking my way. Or I don’t see you. Either way, I run you down. You die.

    Scenario #3: I see you crossing the street. I see that you are black. Being a racist, I’m mad because there are too many blacks moving into my neighborhood. I decide to take my anger out on you. I run you down. You die.

    Under the law, the first is murder. The second is murder or felony murder if I didn’t see you. The third is murder and clearly a hate crime. Why should #3 be punished any more heavily than #1 or #2? Why does hate make it worse? Or, do we just want to punish racists for being racists?

  • ymarsakar

    If you make a certain set of politics a crime, it becomes easier to stay in power.

  • judyrose

    Yes, DQ. That’s exactly it. We want to punish racists for being racists. Last time I looked, it was legal to be a jerk. Once the government begins defining what kind of jerk you can be, we’re in terrible trouble. I guess we’re in terrible trouble.

  • Laer

    If Imus was fired for using words that supposedly caused harm to strong, robust late-teen to early-twenties women, why isn’t Alex Baldwin being fired for using words that very definitely harmed an 11 year old?

  • Mike Devx

    The problem with “hate crimes” is that it’s based on identity politics, and preferred categories of victimization due to long-term societal discrimination of one sort or another. To be eligible for hate-crime status, the victim has to be selected based on a chosen – and therefore special – categorization based on religion, gender, race, or sexual orientation. This is its fatal flaw.

    I think back to Charles Manson and his “family” of followers. Their targeting – and deliberate selection – for murder of those they considered “bourgeois pigs” is as much a hate crime to me as any other could be. And yet it would not qualify as a hate crime because this target grouping is not one of those selected as a worthy grouping.

    A truly just society would treat all of its citizens as the unique individuals that each of us are, and would treat each of us the same, regardless of whatever category or grouping anyone might assign to any one of us. Hate crime legislation, by separating all of us into specific – and therefore special – groups based on leftist identity politics, makes us less just and less fair as a nation.

    And yet, there is something particularly chilling to me about criminals who BEGIN by seeking out a victim based on a particular characteristic. My humanity feels reduced when I am a crime target selected – usually by eyesight! – among all the other potential victims. “Not that one, not that one, not that one… THERE’s one. Let’s go get HIM.” There is something worse about that, but I can’t see what we can do about it, but perhaps we can create additional penalties in some broadly defined manner such that it would be fair. The leftist solution that we call “hate crime legislation”, because it is based on identity politics, is not the right answer.

  • ymarsakar

    If Imus was fired for using words that supposedly caused harm to strong, robust late-teen to early-twenties women, why isn’t Alex Baldwin being fired for using words that very definitely harmed an 11 year old?

    Comment by Laer | April 21, 2007

    Because Imus was threatening the power and status of the Left, while Alex is a loyal follower.

  • Don Quixote

    Good question, Laer. Maybe because his speech was intended to be private. Maybe because his outrageous statements were not a part of the job itself, as Imus’s were. Whatever, I suspect if his show starts losing sponsors (or viewers), he will suffer Imus’s fate. If not, he’ll stay.

    Excellent comment, Mike Devx.

  • ymarsakar

    My last reply was rather shallow and lacking in certain details. So I went and got the goods spread out.

  • Harold Kildow

    I agree with the general take being expressed here; adding speculations about motivation or state of mind seems only serviceable to people with agendas. But I believe that like many another bad idea, this one also has its provenance in a real effort to meet a real situation. The only legitimate reason to establish something like a new category of crime along thes lines is because there were, and perhaps still are, cases of intimidation and persecution that fell or fall through the cracks of existing laws.

    Every prosecutor has run up against a case of behavior that certainly needs to be brought before the law, but has difficulty finding the right statute to bring it under. This accounts for some fairly imaginative stretching of definitions, as well as the wording of statutes to try to cover every conceivable possibility. (Think about the kid who, when told not to hit his sister, begins just touching her instead as a way to torment her). Yet there are times when obnoxious actions are not illegal and though people are being victimized, no legal action can be taken. I think this was the original reason for hate crimes legislation–there were things being done that shouldn’t be tolerated, but were not exactly illegal. Plus, what left-leaning politician is going to miss that opportunity for posturing?

    Of course this was seized on–perhaps even designed from the beginning–for the purposes pointed out in the posts above, with the dangerous dimunution of speech rights and inexorable expansion of the control of the public space by the multi-culti purveyors of “political correctness”, a phrase redolent of totalitarianism if there ever was one. The behavior hate crime legislation is aimed at discouraging would be better dealt with by other civil institutions, like family and church, and in a better time, schools.