Thursday, May 3, 2007

Hate crimes inspire terror

You can read about the House approving an expanded hate crimes bill as well as some commentary on the current debate about the legislation. Many of those who have come out against it make charges about freedom of speech, special rights, or legislative redundancy. None of those charges hold much water.

The bill was designed to meet the ACLU's own concerns about freedom of speech - it only applies to existing crimes, it does not make being a bigot or expressing strong views about a particular group a crime. Nor does it give any group special rights. It recognizes that crimes against individuals which have an intimidating and inflammatory effect on a group to which they belong have a greater effect than just the damage to the individual. It harms the entire group/community.

When being Jewish is the major contributing factor to a crime, for example, beating someone while calling them Jewish slurs and marking the victim with a swastika, it does not just harm the person who was beaten and humiliated. It intimidates and terrorizes the Jewish community. If the perpetrators did the same thing to someone because they were Christian, Muslim, black, white, latino, etc, it would similarly effect not only the immediate victim but others who resemble the victim. This is especially true of groups that have historically been the victims of violence just for being who they are. So why shouldn't this protection extend to crimes based on whether the person is gay or straight?

No, it isn't just about punishing the crime itself, because yes, there are laws on the books against assault, battery, destruction of property, etc. This kind of legislation is about recognizing the broader effect such hate crimes have on the community and adjusting the penalties to match. I generally don't cite people such as talk show hosts here (I actually can't remember doing so before, but I could be mistaken), but I heard a few minutes of the nationally syndicated Thom Hartman show today and he summed it up pretty well by making the point that hate crimes are a subset of terrorism. Terrorists acts aren't just about the immediate victims - the broader goal is inspiring terror among others like the victims.

The President has threatened to make this his third veto. If this concerns you, contact the White House and your representatives in Congress to let them know you support the recognition and punishment of hate crimes.

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