I believe that the next crime I commit will be a hate crime.
Why is that? And why would I inform the world of my intent?
Well, I have no intention of committing any crime, but at the rate new laws are being put into place, it is a matter of time before I run afoul of one or more of them. In fact, going by John Stossel’s “Illegal Everything“, I am already a criminal many times over. And, given the current cultural focus on hate crimes and corresponding legislation, it is probable that I will soon be in violation of one of those.
We as a culture are largely inured to criminal behavior. I believe that this is due, in part, to being regularly regaled with tales of practical human depravity via the nightly news and the daily web. As a result, it takes something out of the ordinary to grab out attention–to stoke the fires of our righteous (or unrighteous) anger.
So, how do we do it? How do we get past the ennui that simple criminality invokes it us? One way that is being used of late requires that we categorize certain criminal activity as being based in hatred rather than, well, whatever it is that drives criminal behavior for normal crimes: envy, jealousy, greed, lust, and all of their brethren.
Here’s the thing. In the United States, we have the freedom to do many things which are immoral and unethical. That is, those things identified as crimes are a subset of all the things which would be considered wrong (as well as a number of other things which no right-minded person would consider criminal, but that’s a post for another day).
One of the freedoms which we have is the freedom to love whom and what we will. We also have the freedom to hate whom and what we will. I am not claiming that either of these freedoms is entirely good because they are not, in a moral sense.
What I am saying is that by singling out certain crimes as “hate crimes” and assigning to them a level of punishment beyond what the same crime would engender were it not so labeled, we are adding an unhelpful distinction to the crime.
Is hatred of a fellow human being wrong? Good question. Simple (and very difficult) answer is “Yes.” Is it illegal? Again, simple answer is “No.” Should it be made illegal, as we have begun to do with what is commonly called hate crimes legislation? If we are to be consistent and in keeping with our Constitution, then the answer is “No.”
We already address motivation in ascertaining the degree of planning or forethought which goes into a crime. This is as it ought to be. We already take hatred, envy, etc into consideration when we look at motives and attempt to fit the punishment to the crime. What benefit do we derive as a society (and the individuals which make up the society) if we keep sliding crimes into this special category?
The point of punishing a crime is that we as a society agree that a certain behavior is destructive or otherwise negative. When we start going on about certain crimes being hate crimes, we actually shift the focus away from the crime–which may itself be horrible and unseemly–and place the focus on the group of people who were supposedly the target of hatred before they were the victims of the crime.
By extension, by labeling the crime a hate crime, we give tacit permission to the group who were the subject of the hatred to express hatred in return.
While that may not be a crime (nor should it be, if we hold to the First Amendment freedoms) it can most assuredly be categorized as immoral.