Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hate crimes: Lesson in inequality

If you've read, heard, or watched the news lately, you've likely heard the term "hate crime" bandied about.

Some recent headlines:
  • Camera catches alleged hate-crime beating
  • Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark will prosecute cross burning as a hate crime
  • Springville Beating is Possible Hate Crime
  • Victim of Suspected Hate Crime talks to 7 News
In each instance, the fact that a crime is motivated by some sort of prejudice gives the charge more weight. The above examples are instances of racially-motivated and sexuality-motivated hate crimes.

I'm just as opposed to prejudice as I am in favor of law and order. But the notion that motivation makes a crime worse, cries of hypocrisy to me.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed following the Civil War. In essence, it guarantees equal protection under the law for ALL U.S. citizens.

Some history: As is typical, what I learned in grade school and what is historically correct, differ. I learned that the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were a package deal. The 13th prohibited slavery. The 14th offered equal protection. And the 15th says voting cannot be denied based on race.

In actuality, the 13th was passed, outlawing slavery. So many southern states drew up new laws specifically for blacks. That was the impetus for the 14th, which banned such practices. And the 15th is somewhat of an exclamation point ... just so people understood. We're all equal.

Of course, equality has been a long time coming. And frankly, we're not there quite yet, unfortunately. Many people still believe themselves to be superior to others. And that's where hate crimes come in.

The problem I have, though, is this: Isn't the existence of a hate crimes law an assault on the 14th Amendment itself?

While the 14th Amendment says we should be treated the same, the existence of hate crimes laws says we should be treated differently.

Am I to assume that random acts of assault are somehow less of an affront to social order than those based on contempt for an assumed quality or trait of the victim? Cause that seems to be the message I get from the mere existence of the phrase "hate crime."

Who commits "love crimes," after all. Or "indifference crimes?"

Is it okay to assault heterosexual white men? Or is it just not as bad? If a straight white guy and a black lesbian are both murdered, are they not equally dead?

I understand that some politicians want to work to remove the bias from people. But you can't legislate the thoughts in someone's head. I can't fathom someone saying, "I'm not going to hate (fill in the blank) because it's illegal."

People don't choose not to hate. They learn not to hate. And they don't learn it from a law.