Don’t even think about it!

Hate crime laws since their inception have always been a controversial topic hotly debated by all sides of the discussion.  Recent issues such as the ruling on California’s Constitutional Amendment Prop 8, overturning the voters of California who voted to define marriage as being between one man and one woman; or the proposed “Park 51” project (formerly known as the “Cordoba House” project) building an Islamic Community Center and Mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site, fuel the discussion further by introducing the idea that opposition to the Mosque or court ruling is based on hate, bigotry, and intolerance.  Some fear that those in opposition will verbally or physically attack Muslims or proponents of same sex marriage, justifying the need all along for hate crimes legislation.

That is the question at hand: are hate crimes laws a justified necessity, or simply an attempt (intentional or accidental) to elevate the value of certain people groups by offering greater protection under the law by punishing more harshly anyone who would commit crimes against them allegedly due to their protected status.  Crimes deemed to qualify as hate crimes under state statutes receive greater penalties than the same crimes which do not qualify as hate crimes.  For example, a man randomly assaulted by another would not be punished as harshly as a man assaulted due to his race.  This is the issue which creates the debate as to whether certain citizens are considered more valuable than others.  It would not seem that the intent of the government would be to consider some individuals of more value, but in practice that appears to be the end result.

Most criminal laws are enacted for two reasons, prevention and protection.  The laws are in place to protect the people from acts of violence, fraud, harassment, etc.  They explain and define the behaviors society has rejected as inappropriate and unacceptable.  The penalties are set (in theory) both to punish appropriately and in proportion to the offense, and to deter potential offenders from committing the crimes in the first place.

On what basis do we as a society determine if there is a need for this special protection?  Are there an exorbitant amount of these hate crimes being committed which require special attention?  Understand that I agree that any violent crimes or hate crimes are unacceptable, the point being, is hate crime an epidemic?  The table below is a summary of violent crimes and hate crimes by year in relation to each other and over all population:

Year Violent Crimes Hate Crime Incidents % Victims Population*
2008 1,382,012 7783 0.6 9691 304
2007 1,408,337 7624 0.5 9535 301.6
2006 1,418,043 7722 0.5 9652 299.4
2005 1,390,745 7163 0.5 8804 296.5
2004 1,360,088 7649 0.6 9528 293.7
2003 1,383,676 7489 0.5 9100 290.8
2002 1,423,677 7462 0.5 9222 289

*In Millions (1)

Every violent crime is a tragedy, especially hate crimes. However, the number of overall violent crimes which are hate crimes is incredibly minute. Up to six tenths of one percent (.6 of 1%) is hardly an epidemic. If you read the news these figures are likely a shock, they were to me. We are led to believe that hate crime is out of control, but according to the data collected by the FBI, the number of hate crimes is barely visible. It can’t be the number of hate crimes driving the social desire for the legislation.

So what could be the driving force behind the laws? People are already protected by laws against violence. All states prohibit acts of harassment, threat, and violence. If the penalties for these crimes are inadequate, they should be revised accordingly. So protection is not the goal. What about prevention? According to the stats, though the numbers of hate crimes remains relatively unchanged, when you take into consideration the rise in population, approximately 15 million people since 2002, the percentages of crimes to total population decrease. Despite what the media portrays, hate crimes are not on the rise. It would seem they are as prevented as they can be. As we all know, if someone desperately wants to commit a crime, the law will be no deterrent.

In my opinion, the push for hate crime laws, and stronger hate crime laws are a result of politics and politicians pandering to advocacy groups. Hate crime laws do not seem to be driven by the same motivation as other laws. For one thing, the victim of the crime is already protected by the existing laws. What is added is making the same act of violence or intimidation against an individual a crime against a group of similar people due to your motivation in committing the crime against the individual. According to our Constitution, individuals have rights, not groups. Each person is dealt with on an individual basis, and should be. Criminalizing actions against an individual is one thing, but then applying additional punishment due the individual’s real or perceived democraphical status informs society the government believes Person A is worthy of greater protection than Person B. I do not believe a crime against an individual also transfers to a group of people who were not involved.

People who commit violent crimes belong in jail, but to additionally criminalize their thoughts in addition to their actions is a step too far. The guy who beats and robs me will go to jail, and rightly so. I do not see what it matters if he did it because of the color of my skin, or a certain belief I hold, I’m beat up either way. Hate crime laws are akin to legislating “You can’t think that!”, an idea I consider wholly unamerican.

Related Article: Can You Feel The Love?


  1. I’ve been reading your blog for about a half an hour now and actually find it very interesting, though I’m not inclined to agree with everything you argue.

    I think in this case, one of the main issues with hate crimes is that they tend to send a message of fear to the targeted group; they lead to a victim mentality (one that you argued against in your recently posted response to Dan Savage’s article) that causes damage to an entire community. Especially in crimes based on attributes that are particularly clear, like race or ethnicity, the members of that group tend to feel more threatened in that area or simply as they go about their daily lives. In the same way that terrorism and the 9/11 attacks shaped the collective mentality of Americans, crimes based on religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation shape the mentality of those groups, creating a pervasive uneasiness and fear.

    • While I am inclined to agree that explicit cases of “hate crime” are intended to send a message to particular demographic, the vast majority of hate crimes are not so clear and are merely declared by law enforcement officials or social activists (Al Sharpton or Jessis Jackson for example).

      My problem with the concept of hate crime legislation comes from penalizing thoughts, and deeming classes of people worthy of further protection than others simply by sheer numbers. It also allows for selective interpretation of motivations. One only need to look at the Justice Department and their handling of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case. DoJ officials have come out and claim that they have been told to over look cases of discrimination with white victims.

      I think it is far too easy for someone to make the claim a crime was a hate crime. Two guys get into a fight after leaving a bar, one white one black. One bumps into the other and either one could just claim the other used a racial slur during the fight and that makes it a hate crime.

      In my article dealing with Dan Savage, my point is the victimhood is created long before there is a victim. So what I believe happens is any negative interaction with others is seen as caused by hatred of homosexuality, where that is not necessarily the case. It hightens the senses of the “harassed” individual to the point where anyone who just doesn’t like them even because of personality, for example, becomes discrimination in their mind.


  1. […] When people are told by their particular cause’s activists that they are victims; that they should expect to be victims; and that you need to be constantly looking over your shoulder, you will always read into every slight a personal attack.  Perhaps Matney has not been a victim yet and felt he was not meeting the expectations of the proper activists. […]

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