Monday, April 22, 2013

Hate Crime Legislation: A Complicated Debate

In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expands hate crime laws to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Some states already had strong hate crime legislation on the books. These laws give prosecutors the ability to seek an enhanced penalty if a criminal had a discriminatory motive. I found this terrific New York Times synopsis of perspectives from all sides of the hate crime legislation debate.

Proponents of hate crime laws argue that crimes motivated by hate are particularity harmful to the victim and society, thus deterrence is even more important. One NYT writer put it this way: "laws shape attitudes." Another specified that hate crime laws are "colorblind" and apply to people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, etc. -- the prosecutor just has to prove that the accused was motivated by hatred of the given group. Another author said that the hate factor is part of the crime, and thus should impact the sentence: "Not all crimes draw blood."

The argument against hate crime legislation has several components. Opponents think that these laws place a higher value on certain lives. "Is a maniac who opens fire in a shopping mall less objectionable than a maniac who opens fire in a gay club," one author says. Others say that bias is difficult to determine. Finally, one author argued that using "hate" as a mitigating factor is equivalent to re-criminalizing the action.

1 comment:

  1. The argument against hate crime legislation definitely proposes a compelling analogy when questioning whether a maniac is more or less objectionable for opening fire in a gay club. I believe that historical narrative on what does and does not constitute "hate" could help us better understand how opposition to hate crime legislation could be curtailed, like opposition to repealing sodomy laws, to perpetuate discrimination on the basis of sexuality.