As John Sexton discussed yesterday, the evil individuals charged in the kidnapping and torture of a mentally disabled young man in Chicago are currently being held without bail. They have also, as was confirmed by the Chicago Tribune, been charged with a “hate crime” over the incident. This has a lot of law and order conservatives cheering, but it really shouldn’t.
Yes, it’s tempting to turn this into yet another tragic chapter in the usual food fights over so called “hate crimes” or to bash Shaun King around for his reliably obtuse denials of reality over this attack. (And Tavis Smiley finds the whole thing terribly hard to compartmentalize.) I understand the temptation. These laws are so often invoked in cases which further divide the nation along racial lines that they’ve become ingrained in the national debate. But as I’ve written about here until I’m blue in the face, there are no good instances of charging American citizens with a “hate crime” no matter how odious their behavior or despicable their words. Agreeing with me on most all of the major points this week is John Ziegler, writing at Lawnewz. After acknowledging what a horror show the entire affair was, John goes on to describe why so called hate crime charges are a “dumb and dangerous idea” even when applied to someone from a protected class.
As a white guy who was skeptical that in a politically correct world blacks would be treated the same way whites would be under similar circumstances, part of me was pleasantly surprised that the “hate crime” law appears to have been instituted equally and fairly. However, a bad law is still a bad law, regardless of how equitably it might be implemented.
In my view, hate crime laws are both dumb and dangerous and this case, partially because of its “man bites dog” quality, further proves this reality.
To me, the biggest problem, among several, with hate-crime laws is that they force the criminal justice system to read the mind of the perpetrator of a crime. Sometimes this may seem rather easy to do, but usually it is not so clear why someone decided to harm another person.
This first portion of John’s essay is spot on and speaks to the same point I’ve been making here for years. It’s true that any charge requiring the reading of minds is dubious at best to begin with. But even if we could somehow convince ourselves that we’ve successfully mastered psychic divination, that’s still not the heart of the problem. In the United States you are allowed to think terrible, hateful thoughts. You can think anything you like and, with only very few exceptions, you can say what you like as well. That’s why we protect marches by the Klan and neo-nazi groups. It’s only when you act on your thoughts and engage in behavior which is already illegal that we haul you away.
John goes one step further, however, and delves into the idea of “hate” as it’s used in the entire hate crime question.
My final objection to hate crime laws is one that never gets mentioned in this debate. That is the complete demonization of “hate” as motivation. Yes, often times, as apparently was the case in Chicago, “hate” is a horrible human emotion, but this is not always true. We forget that, among many examples, had we not “hated” our enemies in World War II that we likely would have lost that conflict. Sometimes “hate” can be an extremely productive sentiment and it is clear that, partially through the acceptance of the “hate crime” concept, the word has now taken on a universal and extremely negative connotation (as proof, try to remember the last time sports announcers described a good healthy rivalry with the word “hate”).
I would argue that there are several different flavors of “hate” in the spectrum of human emotions, and we need to be cautious when painting the world with that particular brush. But at the same time, I see what Ziegler is saying. I happen to hate the New England Patriots, but I don’t expect to be arrested for it unless I start digging up the turf at their stadium. Still, we’re getting bogged down in semantics at this point and losing sight of the original argument. A “hate crime” is indistinguishable from a thought crime and it’s a failure of our system that such laws exist on the books today.
This deplorable situation dates back to the disastrous decision by the Rehnquist court in 1993 when they upheld the idea of “hate crimes” in Wisconsin v. Mitchell. The irony here is that the case in question was, amazingly, a trial involving a black suspect convicted in an attack on a white victim based on his race. (Interesting side note: Chuck Schumer played a very active role in that case.) The door was opened to all of the nonsense we’re seeing today when Rehnquist declared that, “a defendant’s abstract beliefs, however obnoxious to most people, may not be taken into consideration by a sentencing judge, but that the belief is no longer abstract once it provides the motive for discriminatory action.”
Once that bit of insanity was in the books, everyone felt free to begin passing more “hate crime” laws than you can shake a stick at. So now that we have these charges against the Chicago hoodlums, you might want to rein in the end zone dancing. Just because liberals get away with doing something stupid all of the time, it doesn’t become any smarter just because you turn around and employ the same tactics.