Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

There Are Things More Perverse Than "Hate"

The enactment of laws creating many so-called "hate" crimes has been a priority of many liberals in recent years. The standard model of the type of situation that supposedly must be addressed by such laws projects back to the days of the civil rights movement and beyond: Helpless members of racial minorities (generally but not always African-American) attacked by members of the racial majority motivated by "hate" (often, racial bias). Of course, "hate" crimes are not always limited to racial motiation as the required "hate." Gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and religious affiliation can also the focus of the "hate." Obviously, private infliction of physical violence against anyone on the basis of any of these grounds is perverse.

But there are more perverse things. One of them is the grossly perverse consequences of the way these "hate" crime laws are actually enforced. That enforcement often (actually, usually) most seriously afflicts members of the very groups the "hate" crime laws were supposedly enacted to protect. Today's news presents a particularly vivid example of this perversity:
A judge sentenced a man to 240 years in prison Wednesday for taking hostages in a bar and telling patrons that "white people are going to burn tonight." State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley told Steven Johnson, 39, who is black, that he had forfeited his "right to live in society."Johnson, 39, was convicted March 1 of attempted murder, assault and other charges, including some designated as hate crimes.

Isn't it quite enough to punish Mr. Johnson and his ilk for attempted murder, assault and other charges, without designating any of them as hate crimes and bringing in the entire racial mess? Obviously, "hate" crimes cannot just enhance the severity of punishment for crime committed by members of a racial majority against members of a racial minority without running into serious Constitutional problems. That means the laws have to be phrased in facially "neutral" fashion. But that very "neutrality" results in a disproportionate number of members of racial minorities running afoul of these laws (if for no other reason than the statistics of their being in a minority). It's hard to imagine a more perverse result.

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