Like something out of a dystopian novel by Philip K. Dick or George Orwell, the House of Representatives has voted to endorse the idea of prosecuting people for the thoughts in their heads rather than actual crimes they commit in the real world.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (H.R. 1913) passed the House last week with a 247 to 175 vote. Although most Republicans opposed it, 18 of them supported it. Support came overwhelmingly from Democrats, only 17 of whom voted against it. The bill will now be sent on to the Senate where there is some concern that with even less input from Republicans, the scope of the bill will be expanded to include unpopular speech as a hate crime. If it’s going to be stopped it will also have to be in the Senate, because if it passes there it will certainly be signed into law.
No one should ever be murdered or be targeted for robbery or violence because of their race or religion or sexual orientation, but there isn’t any other justifiable reason why they should be subjected to these crimes either. The crimes are just as unpleasant for the victim regardless of what the mindset or motivation of the criminal is.
We already have laws on the books at the state and federal level to appropriately punish any possible crime based on the severity of the harm done and even considerations like “special circumstances” of unusual cruelty or the age or nature of the victim. What has never been a factor in criminal prosecution is motivation of the criminal, because crimes are wrong regardless of what motivates them. The man who steals to feed his family is still a thief. The man who kills a child because the child kept him awake by crying is still a murderer. Someone who is beaten and left in a coma suffers just as much and is just as much a victim regardless of whether the motivation was robbery, his sexual orientation or the random madness of the attacker.
Our legal system is based on the idea that all men are equal under the law and that you get the same justice if you’re rich or poor, man or woman, gay or straight. A victim is a victim and a criminal is a criminal; crimes are punished because they are crimes, not because of who committed them or who they targeted. That’s a fair and unbiased application of justice. When you start creating special classes of victims or of criminals, you take the fairness out of the system and grant special privileges to some people which others don’t enjoy. You set some people above others, declaring that their suffering is more important just because of who they are. To do this makes the law unequal and oppressive, and is absolutely antithetical to the idea of a society based on universal equality.
If you accept the doctrine of racial inequality which is behind this hate crimes bill and that some victims are more victimized because of who they are or what the criminal thought about them, then the next logical step is to start treating criminals differently based on considerations like race or gender or sexual preference. Murder is only assault if you’re a woman. Robbery isn’t even a crime if you’re a member of an ethnic minority. A beating is a friendly handshake if the perpetrator is gay. It’s the road to the complete breakdown of justice, because for the law to be just it must be applied equally.
Look at it another way. If the sentence for murder is life and a racial motivation adds 10 years to the sentence as this bill proposes, then you are giving out 10 years in jail solely for being a racist. Set the murder, which is already a crime, aside and you are punishing someone solely for the thoughts in his head. You couldn’t send someone to jail for thinking racist thoughts and writing them down and even publishing them. Why should you be able to add to his sentence for thinking those thoughts while committing a crime? The most scary part is that the next step from here is punishing the thoughts without even bothering to have an associated crime.
Ordinarily federal law only applies in federal jurisdiction, so a law like this would do nothing for anyone except the occasional gay park ranger who gets mauled by a homophobic bear. But this bill includes a particularly pernicious provision to provide grants from the federal government to local law enforcement specifically for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. This program is similar to programs from the War on Drugs, which blurred the line between state and federal jurisdiction and provided incentives for gratuitous investigations and prosecutions to keep the federal dollars coming in.
Under the grant program local law enforcement can get up to $100,000 a year and material assistance from federal agencies. In return all they have to do is let the feds come into their jurisdictions and play an expanded role in pursuing hate crimes. Of course, if they want that federal money to keep coming they need to find and prosecute hate crimes. This leaves law enforcement actively looking for crimes which they can define as hate crimes to justify the federal grant money they are receiving.
When there’s a profit motive you can guarantee that investigators are going to find hate crimes everywhere and prosecutors are going to pursue convictions as hard as they can. There won’t actually be any more hate motivated crimes than there were before, but there will certainly be more people spending extra time in jail because it was profitable to add a hate crimes charge to the case against them.
The situation is reminiscent of the Fugitive Slave Law which was in place before the Civil War, where judges were paid $5 if they ruled that the accused was a free man, but $10 if they ruled that he was an escaped slave. Not surprisingly a lot of free blacks were forced into slavery under this law in a gross miscarriage of justice which helped to push the nation into civil war.
The first truth held to be self-evident in our Declaration of Independence is that “all men are created equal,” but when you start dividing them into groups and giving those groups special legal protections you are making some more equal than others. This law debases the entire legal system, making a mockery of the principle of equality before the law on which our justice system is based. When you give select groups a superior status in the eyes of the law, you make everyone else a second-class citizen. That may appear like justice to some, but it only looks like justice when it cuts your way. When it’s your thoughts or your unpopular ideas which are targeted it’s going to look like tyranny, because that’s exactly what it is.