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Thursday, May 10, 2007
(9:46 AM) | Stephen:
Hate Crimes

The recent passing of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592) is a bit step toward recognizing that women, the disabled and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered community are regularly targeted not as individuals, but as members of a group. Federal law already covers ethnicity, national origin and religion, so this bill is not a new thing at all.

Predictably, conservative religious groups are leading the charge against this legislation, crying foul over the "thought police" expanding their reach. Such concern over pastors' ability to continue preaching the type of sermons they want to preach makes me wonder just what these guys are saying on Sunday morning.

Of course their fears are unfounded; this legislation criminalizes nothing. What it does is make it possible for the federal government to pursue charges if certain standards for evidence are met. My understanding is that the original hate crimes legislation was drafted because of the reluctance from local police and prosecutors, in certain parts of the country, to pursue cases involving victims who were ethnic minorities. In countless cases since the original hate crimes legislation was signed into law, the pressure and action of the federal government has been the only hope of justice for minorities being victimized by Caucasians.

The basis for this legislation is the same. Women still find it very hard to find justice in our courts, the idiot DA in North Carolina notwithstanding. Homosexuals and especially the transgendered have an especially difficult time in our justice system. Imagine a Rush Limbaugh aficionado or fan of the execrable Michael Savage sitting on a jury charged with weighing the fate of a man using the Gay Panic Defense against charges that he murdered a homosexual man.

But really, all this talk about "hate crimes" is disingenuous, though not purposefully so. And the term itself is way too loaded for us. It's easy for people to manipulate the discussion into one about the private thoughts of the perpetrator, which they then claim that as terrible as they may be, they are protected. We can have any opinion we want, critics say, and that's true.

What we need to do is change the frame of reference from a vague notion of a "hate crime" to a term that is far more accurate and better at conveying just what it is the federal legislation is supposed to deal with.

The issue we're dealing with is terrorism. When a bomb is left outside a women's clinic in Austin, that's not a hate crime. It's terrorism. When a homosexual man is murdered because he is a homosexual man, the entire homosexual community is affected by this crime. It's murder as message, violence in the name of making a political as well as a personal point. That is terrorism.

There is no need for us to see terrorists under every rock and every crime as terrorism. But we as a nation also need to grow up a little bit and get rid of the adolescent fantasy of American exceptionalism, that a group of Arabic men with a cache of guns in their homes are "terrorists" while a group of white men with a cache of guns in their homes make up a "militia." When the intent of a crime is to terrorize a community, the perpetrator should be prosecuted accordingly. It's that simple, and changing the terminology to reflect this would certainly make it more difficult for the arguments against this type of legislation to gain a foothold.

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