Hate crime laws have been in the news quite a bit lately. That is why it might be wise to evaluate how effective they have really been in dealing with crime.
Dylan Roof was given the death penalty by jurors in the South Carolina courtroom. They would certainly have given him the same verdict even if he had not been convicted a month earlier of federal hate crime laws.
Four African-American youths have already been charged for hate crimes in Chicago. They face multiple counts of kidnapping and battery because of their gagging, scalping, and torturing a special needs teenager.
On the other hand, you have the Army Major Nidal Hasan shooting soldiers in Fort Hood while shouting “Allahu Akbar.” We were told that was not a hate crime or even a terrorist act. It was merely another example of “workplace violence.”
A few decades ago, when states and then the federal government wanted to label hate crimes, the concept made some sense. In the criminal justice system, we do have certain factors that can be sentence multipliers. A crime that is premeditated can be given a greater punishment than a crime of passion. Politicians wanted to increase punishments for acts that were considered to be racist or sexist.
The problem with such a designation is two-fold. First, hate crimes are poorly defined and have become politicized. Some of the crimes are considered hate crimes, while others are not. There doesn’t seem to be any consistency. Moreover, additional categories like sexual orientation, disability, and others keep getting added to the criteria of a hate crime.
A second problem with hate crime laws is they seek to punish thought. Conservatives and civil libertarians may not agree on much, but many of them are concerned about laws that not only assess the crime but also the mental state of the criminal committing the crime. The criminal justice system should punish criminal acts not hateful thoughts.
That’s why I think it’s time to rethink hate crime legislation.