Thoughtful Hatred

HR 1913 is one of the stranger flavors of legislation which has been sent from the House of Representatives to the US Senate in recent days. It would provide federal assistance to local law enforcement to address specific categories of crimes which include hatred as a component of those crimes.

On the outside, addressing hatred might be an honorable thing (depending on who is hating what). When one digs into this bill a bit one understands that it is not about addressing hatred so much as it would establish special categories of criminals: those with bad actions and very bad thoughts.

Paul Greenberg has an excellent take-down of the bill, of which the following is a small piece:

It’s not just the crime that is to be judged anymore, but the politics of it. The accused doesn’t become eligible for additional punishment unless he’s motivated by one of the designated politically incorrect hates named in the bill. All others are, in effect, discounted.

That is, there’s no extra penalty if you’re infuriated by, say, the victim’s class. Or his income. Or his taste in neckties. Or his musical preferences, sports team (Damn Yankees!), regionalism (danged hillbillies!) or the general cut of his jib. For none of those prejudices are included in the bill’s designated hates.

It’s an approach to crime and punishment premised on the (unspoken) theory that it’s not as bad to hate some folks as to hate others, or to commit the same crime but for reasons other than the politically incorrect ones specified in the bill. Like greed, revenge, envy or just general cussedness.

Think about it, Gentle Reader, if this subject still permits thought rather than blind emotion: When we punish only some motivations for a crime, we necessarily privilege — as the academics say — other kinds. And we wind up with a dual standard of justice: political and nonpolitical, “bias crimes” and the dull old conventional ones, “social justice” and just plain justice.

Several members of the US Civil Rights Comission have seen that this bill is remarkably poor law:

While the title of LLEHCPA suggests that it will apply only to “hate crimes,” the actual criminal prohibitions contained in it do not require that the defendant be inspired by hatred or ill will in order to convict. It is sufficient if he acts “because of” someone’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Among other things that this bill would appear to do is to place people into double jeopardy and even allow for new trials for those who have been previously proven innocent of their crimes (but now have a new crime to be tried for).

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: It is nearly impossible for any human being to fully know, to properly understand the motivations of another. We often “jump to conclusions” only to find ourselves eating the proverbial humble pie when our conclusions prove to have about as much substance as quicksand.

This bill would codify the process whereby jumping to conclusions regarding certain people and their thoughts about other people would have the weight of evidence.