Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rethinking My Position on Hate Crimes

I've long had mixed feelings about the concept of "hate" crimes ("assault, injury, and murder on the basis of certain personal characteristics"). When sentencing a criminal, does it really matter why their victim was harmed? Should someone who injured or killed another because of the victim's perceived membership in a group (ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc.) be punished more severely than someone who didn't know or care about such factors? I'm not an attorney (although I think I ought to get partial credit in law school for all the time I've spent watching "Law & Order" and its multiple spinoffs), so my understanding of the variables involved in sentencing is limited. I know that demonstrating motive can be an important part of convincing a jury that the accused is guilty, but I'm not convinced that motive should figure into punishment, unless perhaps an assailant claims that the crime wasn't premeditated, that s/he temporarily abandoned reason and lashed out in the heat of the moment.

Whoever slashed the tires on 51 floats scheduled to participate in the 42nd annual Chicago Pride Parade wasn't acting in the heat of the moment. According to Chuck Huser, the manager of the company that stored the floats in preparation for the parade, the perpetrator(s) "were probably here [in the company's warehouse] a long time to do so much damage." Since every float in the warehouse was damaged and the incident took place sometime between 8:30 PM Saturday and 5:00 AM Sunday, just hours before the parade was scheduled to start, it's reasonable to assume that the criminal(s) hoped to derail the event. Happily, they failed and the revelers prevailed. The float supplier managed to find and replace more than 100 tires in short order, all but three of the floats rolled out as planned, and the parade's organizers believe that this year's crowd was the largest ever.

Huser estimates that the damage cost his firm about $20,000, a significant amount, but one that seems relatively minor in comparison to the furor that would have resulted if the parade had been cancelled. Huser "firmly believe[s] it was a hate crime." This incident hasn't turned me into a full-fledged proponent of hate crime laws, but it's certainly got me thinking.

H/T to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars

(Hey, Greta Christina just blogged about San Francisco's LGBT Pride Parade, and how "coming out" as an atheist is fundamentally different from coming out as gay. Highly recommended.)

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