Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hate crimes

It's been a rough few weeks here in the Tree City dealing with some pretty horrific news. A few days ago, a 23 year old Kent State student was attacked in downtown Kent, apparently for no specific reason, and beaten severely enough to put him in a coma. He died a few days later. The suspects arrested were not from Kent (both are from Akron and one was a student at the University of Akron), but a few days later there were reports of armed robberies on the KSU campus. While I'm disturbed by this to say the least, the issue that jumped out at me and several other readers has to do with race. The KSU student attacked was white, while the two men charged with the initial assault are, you guessed it, black. The same was true with the robberies on campus: white victims, black assailants (those 4 men were all young, ages 17-18, and three of them are KSU students). What I've seen in the article comments got me thinking as a lot of people are calling for these to be labeled "hate crimes". There is truth to the fact that if this were the other way around (white assailants and black victims) racism would most certainly be called in as a factor. No doubt about it. Why it doesn't happen when the victim is white is beyond me. Of course the investigation is ongoing and we still have to learn what the real motive was behind this horrible crime. Was it racially motivated? I honestly don't know. My gut feeling tells me it isn't; that it was more random. But what's really been on my mind is the whole "hate crime" thing.

Hate crimes are basically something done solely as a result of someone's race, religion, ideology, gender, sexual orientation. Just recently, a bill was made law that extended "protection" to people based on their sexual orientation. But honestly, do we even need hate crime legislation? I honestly don't believe we do. In the end, a crime is a crime and should be punished accordingly regardless of the motive. Whether someone was killed because of their race or because they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time is irrelevant; all that matters is that they were killed senselessly. Hate crime legislation is just a way for us to pat ourselves on the back and feel like we're protecting the little guy. It's also a way for politicians to pander to specific groups to appear to champion their cause. In the end, however, it doesn't protect the little guy any more than already existing laws that govern crime. Why should someone get a lesser punishment for murder because it wasn't racially motivated? I mean, really, the only place it should come up would be in arguing self defense. But beyond that, motive shouldn't affect how a criminal is punished. It's either a crime or it isn't; it's not more of a crime because it was motivated by hatred for something like race or gender. And why is hatred of someone because of their race, age, gender, etc. so bad, but simply hating someone because you hate them is "less" of a crime? Sorry, cold-blooded murder regardless of motive is still cold-blooded murder and should be dealt with accordingly.

Hate crime legislation has also been shown to not be a deterrent in preventing the very thing they are designed to. Why? Because the people who commit hate crimes are criminals; they don't care about the punishment, otherwise they wouldn't commit the crime in the first place. This comes from the super-liberal website, published 9 August 2009:

In 1999, some 21 states and the District of Columbia had hate-crimes laws on the books. Today, 45 states have enacted hate-crime laws in some form or other. Yet the trend has not been a lowering of hate crimes. In 2006, 7,722 hate-crime incidents were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2006--an 8 percent increase from 2005.

The data: 2,640 were anti-Black (up from 2,630 in 2005); 967 were anti-Jewish (up from 848 in 2005); 890 were anti-white (up from 828 in 2005); 747 were anti-male homosexual (up from 621 in 2005); 576 were anti-Hispanic (up from 522 in 2005); 156 were anti-Islamic (up from 128 in 2005). Hate groups also appear to be on the rise. According to the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has increased by 54 percent since 2000.
The full article can be found here. This next quote comes from a column written in the Washington Post by Richard Cohen. He wrote this column 4 August 2009 shortly after the shooting this summer at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. I felt his column pretty much summed up exactly what I was thinking, so you should have a read!
Let us assume that the "community" is really affected by what we call a hate crime. I am Jewish. But even with von Brunn's attack, I am more affected by a mugging in my neighborhood that might keep me from taking a walk at night than I am by a shooting at the Holocaust museum. If there's a murder in a park, I'll stay out of it for months. If there's a rape, women will stay out of the park. If there's another and another, women will know that a real hater is loose. Rape, though, is not a hate crime. Why not?
So, while I am saddened immesely by the death of this KSU student, his murderers should be punished according to the laws dealing with cold-blooded murder, not as a hate crime. I really don't care why they did it; the fact is they did it and now must pay the penalty. I also want to send my condolences and deepest sympathies to the family of the victim, Christopher Kernich. I hope and pray they are able to again find some peace and that justice is served. Our community has been attacked and this crime has truly saddened me even though I did not even know Mr. Kernich existed until a few days ago. No family should have to worry about sending their loved one(s) to a college town like Kent or anywhere for that matter. May God bless and comfort you in your time of need.


Jess said...

I am saddened to hear of these crimes on campus. I often took classes later in the evening, and always felt completely safe walking across campus in the dark. It's sad to hear that it may not be safe to do so anymore!

As far as your post, I agree on a lot of points. I agree that the punishment should be the same across the board, and that criminals (especially those that act out of a passionate emotion, such as hate) are not deterred by heavier penalties for hate crimes. However, I do think it is important to categorize crimes, to better understand their causes. If we don't know/understand the causes of the crime, how can we help to prevent them in the future? If it is true that these really were hate crimes (which I kind of doubt that they were) then there can be steps taken by the community to prevent such crimes from happening again. So I wouldn't write off categorizing crimes as hate crimes completely.

Jon said...

I agree with you there: I don't have a problem collecting data on why a crime was committed for further study and general information, I just don't think it should have any weight in how a person is punished. It is not illegal to be prejudiced (as backward as that mindset tends to be), so it shouldn't affect judgments.