Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I Hate...

I suppose we could agree that hate is a bad thing. It leads us to do stupid things, some of them potentially harmful. But should it be illegal? There's the old line from the song that goes "You can't go to jail for what you're thinkin'", and to be honest, there is no way to enforce a law against hate until thoughts become actions - specifically illegal actions. Hating someone privately is one thing, but taking an ax to his car is quite another.
Hate speech is a related item. We look for ways to keep unpopular forms of speech (such as the signs which read "God hates Fags") away from funerals. We wish certain types of music with a message would just disappear. But speech is protected by the Constitution, and, as written in this space before, is allowed except in rare circumstances.
This leads us to hate crimes, which work like this: if it can be proven that crimes against a person were committed because of the hate of the victim by the criminal for reasons having to do with ethnicity, religion, etc., then the sentence may be lengthened upon conviction. Some states have such arrangements, others don't. The intent, naturally, is to make hate less "mainstream" - to make it seem less normal, even though hate has been with us since Cain and Abel.
Perhaps you can tell that I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept of hate crimes. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that someone has done something against someone else can be done, because courts do it every day. But going into the criminal's mind to know why something was done is (and should be) harder. The victim's pain is about the same no matter why the crime occurred, and a good lawyer could generate plenty of doubt in a jury about a motive in order to, if not win a case, at least limit the sentence of his guilty client. And I understand that as part of a defense attorney's job. Adding to the sentence in order to deter future crimes - isn't that what the death penalty is supposed to be all about? And don't most faithful liberals think that capital punishment has no real deterrent effect? We shouldn't have it both ways.
Next time, I'll be looking at a bizarre twisting of the whole concept of "hate crimes" by.....our old friends in the Religious Right.


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