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Is ‘hate crime’ just another term for Orwell’s ‘thoughtcrime’?

What is the justification for increased penalties for “hate crimes”? Why should an assault motivated by greed incur a lesser sentence than one motivated by the victim’s race or religion? To me, the only mitigating factor that should be reasonably recognized is premeditation; eg. accidental vehicular homicide vs. a planned murder. The idea of “hate crime” smacks awfully close to Orwell’s concept of “thought crime” in my book.

Jeff E., 37, male, Redondo Beach, CA

Replies:

You get mugged, hey, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You get victimized in a hate crime and you are terrorized by the idea that the assault may be the first of several. It’s random vs. personal.

B. Hale, white, Hartford, CT

You say the only legitimate aggravating factor in dealing with crime is premeditation. What could be more premeditated than a bias crime? Targeting someone as a victim just because of the way that person looks, loves or thinks is about as premeditated as you can get, I would think, and strikes right at the heart of an orderly, respectful society. That’s why bias crimes are treated more forcefully (or should be).

Andrew, 35, Jewish, Huntington, NY

What is the justification for increasing penalties for cop-killings, multiple killings, killings during robbery, killing children or drug-related killings? Some crimes are so heinous and offensive that we say they should be treated more harshly. The criteria is not always consistent. Cross-burning is protected speech now. The bigger danger of focusing on hate crimes is that it allows people to falsely think “I’m not racist because I don’t use violence against X group.” One civil rights leader said he didn’t worry much about Klansmen in sheets, he worried about the ones in business suits.

ACC, Mexican and American Indian, San Antonio, TX

If the target of a crime was targeted because of their difference (race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental challanges, sexual orientation, gender), then a level of pre-meditation has occurred. For example, in many jurisdictions, robbing a store is a crime, as is murder. But if you kill someone while you are in the process of committing a felony, then the statute argues for a more severe penalty. In the military (specifically, the Air Force), if a fight breaks out, and during the fight someone uses a racial epithet, it may not be classified as an Equal Opportunity Treatment Incident (EOTI). However, if the epithet were used before the attack, the likelihood of it being classified as an EOTI is dramatically increased.

Frank G., White Anglo-Hispanic Pagan, 31, Alamogordo, NM

If a group of women who feel that all men are pigs decide to get together every Friday night and lure the first man they meet into a car and then beat the hell out of him, do you think the distinction as to why the crime was committed would be a minor factor? Particularly since that action will be repeated if focus is not drawn to why it occurred in the first place?

Alma, white lesbian, Kempner, TX

In America, everyone has the right to hate. In fact, the Constitution affords each of us the right to live as inclusively or exclusively as we choose. However, while hate itself is an individual choice. Hateful “deeds” are different in that they are actions against others that are punishable by law. The federal government has a moral and ethical obligation to intervene in behaviors that are deemed unusually vicious, inhumane, mean-spirited, unnatural, etc. People organize their lives around their identities and beliefs, so attacks on either become matters of common good and civil wrongs. Annually, our country spends millions on crime prevention education, and there is proof that most strategies, when implemented properly, do work. For instance, we can be warned about the dangers of traveling alone or flashing large amounts of money, etc, .but there is no sane or reasonable way to prepare one for situations when skin or beliefs alone present an imminent danger. It would be like telling black people “don’t be black there, but it’s safe to be black over here.” The bottom line is that when hate crimes do occur, the government has a duty to shield and protect those of us who are willing to deal with our differences and “isms” in more civil and humane ways. Hate crimes do receive more public scrutiny and media attention, but keep in mind that the perpetrator is being punished not for the hate itself but rather for the socially unacceptable and vicious “deeds” committed – crimes often viewed as distinguishing man from beast.

Dee W. black female  Cleveland, Oh

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