Quick Ramble: On Hate Crimes and Justice

Are you affected by hate crimes? Graffiti, vandalism, verbal abuse, threats of violence, physical assault?  Homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, racism, disability-related crime?  Do you know where to report it?  Stop hate.

Yes, stop hate.

In the USA as well – stop hate.  In a free country, where you have freedom of thought, freedom of speech, conscience and religion – stop hate.

One of the few things I disagree with some people on – including my own husband – is the topic of “hate crimes.”  More specifically, the tacking on of a more severe punishment because a crime has been deemed as one of hatred based on prejudice or intolerance toward a person of a specific race, religion, gender, or social group.  Are hate crimes worth punishing someone more over?

My simple answer is no.  My not-so simple answer is no, hate crimes are not worth punishing someone more over, because it borders on policing speech and even thought.  Punish the person for the crime, not for what they thought at the time. We need to live in a world where punishments reflect the crime, where criminals are criminals who happen to be prejudiced against someone else – not in a world where the prejudiced are made criminals.

I’ve only been to one courtroom in my entire life that I am aware of, and that was to serve on the jury of a trial where one man was being accused of entering into someone’s house and breaking a photo frame intentionally.  Our job as the jury was to figure out, based on the presentation by both lawyers and their witnesses, whether or not it could be proven that this man entered this other person’s house to intentionally break a photo frame, beyond reasonable doubt, meaning that it fell upon the prosecutor to prove that this guy did this crime – and to do it so well that we had no doubts about it whatsoever.  Later on we the jury found that there was reasonable doubt, and so the accused was found not guilty.

See, the problem with classifying a crime as a ‘hate crime’ is that it doesn’t work with the concept of ‘reasonable doubt’.  You can’t know all of someone’s thoughts at any given time, let alone prove it beyond reasonable doubt.  It’s just not possible to know what any one person is thinking.  You can’t just say, “Jane Doe was thinking hateful thoughts about wheelchair-bound people at the time she pushed her disabled co-worker down a flight of stairs, so she needs to be punished for a hate crime, not just an assault on a disabled person” and expect it to fly, beyond reasonable doubt.  Sure, Jane Doe is a douche for thinking the way she does about disabled people, but it’s her right to think these things.

It’s not reasonable or just to lengthen or shorten a sentence based on the thought the person had at the time.  If you go the opposite direction, lessening someone’s sentence because they were emotional or distraught at the time, it’s the same.  If Jane Doe pushed the wheelchair-bound co-worker down the stairs because she was upset that the co-worker put her husband in the hospital, that does not excuse the fact that Jane Doe committed a crime.  It does not excuse the fact that Jane Doe took the law into her own hands.  Jane Doe should still get charged for her crime, and that sentence should be the same across the board – whether she did it out of hatred, emotion, or just because she felt like it, Jane Doe committed a crime and the punishment should fit the crime.

Don’t take my words as saying that it’s okay to commit a crime against people that you hate.  I hate racism, religious bigotry, sexism, and plenty of other prejudices that are apparent in the world.  I’m not trying to defend the actions that criminals take – just their thoughts.  Just their right to free thought and free speech.  It’s a pretty dark and ugly example, but you can’t arrest a pedophile for just being a pedophile, he has to take some sort of illegal action before he can be arrested for doing wrong.

Last quick example before I go make my morning coffee: Say you made a tray of cupcakes for St. Patty’s day, and covered them in green frosting.  While you’re in the other room, your son, who you know absolutely hates the color green, decides to eat all of the cupcakes.  When you discover that your child has eaten all of the green cupcakes, what do you do? Do you punish the child for eating all of the cupcakes, or do you punish him more harshly because he ate all of the green cupcakes?