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US Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill; Faces Veto Over F-22 Funding

Jim Burroway

July 17th, 2009

The U.S. Senate late last night passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. The Senate approved the bill in a voice vote after voting 63-28 to block a Republican fillibuster of the hate crimes amendment.

However, the hate crimes bill could become collateral damage over a fight for more funding for the F22-fighter program. The White House and the Pentagon is trying to terminate the program which has been plagued with cost overruns and peformance problems, and they oppose the $1.75 billion in funding included in the appropriations bill. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it includes that funding. A bipartisan amendment to remove the F-22 funding is scheduled for a vote on Monday.

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Timothy Kincaid
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

Matthew Sheppard should have been voted on its merits and not tied to the defense budget.

I really dislike when Congress mashes stuff together like this. It diminishes the integrity of our representative government and raises cynicism in our people.

Ben in Oakland
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

Am I being too cynical to believe that it was attached to this particular bill so that it would fall to a certain veto?

Or what about getting repubs to vote no on a defense bill?

It just makes my head hurt. for the record, Timothy, I agree with you.

AdrianT
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

Well, frankly it sounds like Alice-in-Wonderland politics to tie the fate of a hate crimes bill to that of an airplane. utter lunacy.

Burr
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

The idiots that pulled this off must have thought they were doing us a favor, but this is truly insulting. It insinuates that it couldn’t pass without this chicanery, and once again our rights are held hostage by other issues (see NY Senate).

Chris McCoy
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

We need to call our senators to task for throwing this bill under the bus with that gas guzzling plane. I smell intent.

“Hey, we’ll just tack this onto a bill the White House is sure to veto, so then we can blame Obama and look good to our constituents.”

a. mcewen
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

Let’s not call for heads as of yet. I think Monday’s amendment will pass.

Andrew
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

Just voicing my opinion, again, that I’m no fan of hate crimes statutes. I think they get in the way of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech (and thought), even when it’s ugly. Assault (and worse) is just what it is – and there shouldn’t be disparate punishment based on the identity of the attacker, or of the victim, and the government certainly shouldn’t be applying additional criminal charges based on opinions or biases, no matter how ugly they may be. Because with hate crimes, we’ve now made holding certain opinions a crime, and I find that decidedly un-American. I think what I would settle for is to be treated the same by law-enforcement as any other victim – to have my complaint respected, investigated, and prosecuted, and for DA’s and judges to disallow “gay panic” defense strategies, and other transparent court antics.

Consider a few things as they impact our community:
- a hate crimes statute actually constitutes those “special rights” we always claim we aren’t seeking.
- we have an unprecedented window of opportunity with Congress and the White House. do we really want to put this ahead of employment non-discrimination, an end to don’t ask / don’t tell, and the defense of marriage act?
- how does painting ourselves as victims further the notion that we are equal to our fellow citizens? i don’t want special treatment enforced by a hate crimes law – i want law enforcement to handle my case the same as they would my straight neighbors.

Anyways, I also do want to go on the record, as a gay man, to say that not everyone in our community supports a hate crimes bill, and (in case non LGBT folks are reading) that we are not monolithic… And that we in the LGBT community should always carefully consider whether the legislation we ask for our ourselves will have unintended consequences for us, or for the entire nation.

Gina9223
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

um…am I willing to pay 1.8 billion for a hate crimes bill thats incuslive?

HELL YEAH!

You have to pay to play sometimes. I’d rather pay green than red any day of the week. Its far less painful.

Jason D
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

“just voicing my opinion, again, that I’m no fan of hate crimes statutes. I think they get in the way of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech (and thought), even when it’s ugly.
Assault (and worse) is just what it is – and there shouldn’t be disparate punishment based on the identity of the attacker, or of the victim, and the government certainly shouldn’t be applying additional criminal charges based on opinions or biases, no matter how ugly they may be.”

I have a bias against being killed. If someone tries to kill me, I’ll act on that bias and do whatever I can to stop them, including killing that person. By your logic, the manslaughter charge should disappear because it unfairly lets killers off the hook just because they have the “opinion” that their life is worth defending.

Opinions and biases are part of motive. And they’re part of every criminal court case. They affect sentencing — who should serve more time, the person who wanted to kill someone, or the person who accidentally killed someone? Like it or not, we already make decisions based on opinions and bias.

“Because with hate crimes, we’ve now made holding certain opinions a crime, and I find that decidedly un-American.”

No, actually it doesn’t. See, it’s no crime to have an opinion, everyone’s got one. There has to be a crime before there can be a hate crime. Opinions cannot be prosecuted because they are not crimes in and of themselves. It’s a common misconception that hate crimes violate freedom of speech. They don’t. And if you read up on this bill it specifically involves violent crime, so no, it doesn’t make opinions a crime.

Currently, Hate Crimes legislation has covered race and religion for several decades — can you site where this has been a free speech issue? As far as I know, the KKK hasn’t been locked up for speaking hatefully against jews, blacks, and everyone else. Please bring those cases forward.

You’ve fallen for the hype. The operative word in “Hate Crime” is the word crime. If no crime has been committed, then it can’t be a hate crime.

Lynn David
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

Andrew – a hate crimes statute actually constitutes those “special rights” we always claim we aren’t seeking.

So does hate crimes against religion or ethnicity create ‘special rights’ for Mormons, Wicca, or Baptists? How does a hate crime’s bill concerning sexual orientation create ‘special rights’ when it covers all persons equally, gay or straight, bisexual or asexual?

we have an unprecedented window of opportunity with Congress and the White House. do we really want to put this ahead of employment non-discrimination, an end to don’t ask / don’t tell, and the defense of marriage act?

And you don’t think those elicit the cry of ‘special rights’ or infringement on their right to remain bigotted from the fundie crowd?

how does painting ourselves as victims further the notion that we are equal to our fellow citizens? i don’t want special treatment enforced by a hate crimes law – i want law enforcement to handle my case the same as they would my straight neighbors.

Gee… don’t we all. But in parts of the state where I live if I got beaten up for being gay the police/sheriff more likely take the guy out to dinner rather than arrest him. Hate crimes laws go that extra length towards providing protection and prosecution, ie… real justice.

Matt
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

Timothy said it best.

----
July 17th, 2009 | LINK

Equal rights for everybody, or NO rights for anybody. That’s what I say.

ZRAinSWVA
July 18th, 2009 | LINK

Andrew, to echo what Lynn David said regarding your comment “i want law enforcement to handle my case the same as they would my straight neighbors”

That’s the way it should work, but it doesn’t always happen that way currently. My partner’s brother was bludgeoned to death with a tire iron by a homophobe. The perpetrator walked because the crime was not vigorously investigated. The hate crime bill will give us other avenues to have cases like his investigated without bias against the victim from Law Enforcement prejudicing their actions–or lack thereof.

James Fire
July 19th, 2009 | LINK

Punish crimes, not perspectives.
Our perspectives are derivative of our rights (not privileges) of free speech. We should be free to express our opinions, views, perspectives, beliefs w/o fear of retribution from the government. Of course, we can’t shout ‘fire’ in a theater, but I am free to voice my thoughts, just as you are; yet each must respect each other, and acknowledge that my freedoms end where yours begins, AND vice versa.
The Hate Crime Law is against freedom of speech, against freedom of expression, against freedom of religion.
If one’s speech leads to criminal activity, such as assault, or any other form of observable, and, or physical violence, that is an action which needs a punitive response.
Yet today we are venturing into an Orwellian Society of “Thought Crimes”, patrolled by the ‘Thought Police’ as it were. What’s next? “You can’t say anything negative about our Federal Government? You can’t protest against the actions of any given Presidential Administration? You can’t voice your anger against ‘taxation w/o representation’? We are on a slippery slope with increasing powers to a Federal Government that knows no bounds.

Jim Burroway
July 19th, 2009 | LINK

James,

The Hate Crimes Law ins not against freedom of speech, freedom of expression or freedom of religion. That is a lie put forward by anti-gay extremists which we examined in depth here.

The hate crime law only punishes violent crime, not speech.

Jason D
July 19th, 2009 | LINK

“Punish crimes, not perspectives.”

Except that current laws punish based on perspective. For example, if your perspective is that your life is important enough to defend from attack, if you kill someone — this is given a lesser charge of “manslaughter”. If however your perspective is that you have the right to kill others for any reason, “murder” is your charge.

Perspective is part of motive, and we absolutely have ALWAYS punished motive.

“The Hate Crime Law is against freedom of speech, against freedom of expression, against freedom of religion.”

Except that it doesn’t. This specific legislation deals with violent crimes. Are you suggesting that stabbing someone 61 times is protected “freedom of speech, expression, or religion?”

“If one’s speech leads to criminal activity, such as assault, or any other form of observable, and, or physical violence, that is an action which needs a punitive response. Yet today we are venturing into an Orwellian Society of “Thought Crimes”, patrolled by the ‘Thought Police’ as it were. What’s next? “You can’t say anything negative about our Federal Government? You can’t protest against the actions of any given Presidential Administration? You can’t voice your anger against ‘taxation w/o representation’? We are on a slippery slope with increasing powers to a Federal Government that knows no bounds.”

BUZZ

Thanks for playing!

Don’t believe the thought crime hype. As noted on this website, white supremacist groups have called for tossing Jews in a woodchipper(after murdering them) and they are free to do so despite religion already being protected under hate crimes statutes.

Nothing about this legislation suggests otherwise. In fact if you look at section 10 of this act it states quite clearly:

FREE EXPRESSION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.

Timothy (TRiG)
July 20th, 2009 | LINK

Since hate-crimes bills already exist to cover religion and race, I don’t see what the fuss is. I can understand the arguments against hate-crimes legislation, but surely we all agree that if such laws are to exist at all, they should be as inclusive as possible.

Either no hate-crimes legislation, or full hate-crimes legislation. The only reason to want partial hate-crimes legislation (such as exists in the USA at the moment) is prejudice and bias.

That said, the complaint that hate-crimes legislation criminalises thought is wrong-headed. It is actions which are criminal, but thought is also considered, and always has been. This is why there are separate penalties for murder and for manslaughter. It is why the defence can plea insanity. The prosecution must establish a “guilty mind”.

Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea

Here’s something I wrote earlier about hate crimes:

What is hate crime legislation? It says basically that criminal acts motivated by hate should receive tougher sentences. Note that the acts so punished are crimes anyway, under normal legislation. So muggings, burglaries, vandalism, and other such acts for which you may receive punishment of law, may receive tougher sentences if they are shown to be motivated by hate.

Hate speech may also be incorporated into hate crime legislation.

Now that we’ve clarified what hate crime legislation is, let’s talk about whether it is valid. The point has been made earlier that such legislation criminalises thought. The same attack can receive a tougher sentence if the court perceives it to be motivated by hate. That’s very odd, isn’t it?

Yes, but there is another side to this argument. Picture yourself as a member of a despised minority: a minority by skin colour, sexual orientation, religion, … whatever. Now, because your group is small and widely looked down on, you tend to form a close-knit cohesive bunch, and you follow with interest news and gossip about other members of your minority, even if you don’t know them personally.

So, a member of your minority living not far from you, but whom you don’t know personally, is viciously attacked only for being a member of that minority. The attack is motivated purely by hatred of that minority. The specific victim was merely representative. It might just as well have been one of your friends. It might just as well have been you.

How do you feel?

That is the reason for hate crime legislation. In a hate crime, there are far more victims than those who appear in the witness stand. A whole group feels hurt, frightened. There is an incalculable knock-on effect.

With so much more hurt, with so many more victims, it is only right that there should be a greater punishment for the attackers.

I have now started to think of a hate crime as “terrorism lite”. I think that helps to explain what we’re talking about.

TRiG.

Burr
July 20th, 2009 | LINK

“Either no hate-crimes legislation, or full hate-crimes legislation. The only reason to want partial hate-crimes legislation (such as exists in the USA at the moment) is prejudice and bias.”

That’s my take on it.

Sometimes I wonder if the increase in hate crimes against homosexuals is precisely because they’re in one of the groups not covered yet.

If you’re an equal opportunity bigot, who would you go after? The blacks and jews who are likely to cost you extra years of your life, or gays, who have no such backing and may not even get you prosecuted to the full extent of the law in a homophobic jurisdiction?

timothy kincaid
July 20th, 2009 | LINK

I am not a fan of hate crime enhancements. If additional punishment is meted solely because of thought, speech, or animus towards the victim’s group, then indeed what is being punished by that ADDITIONAL sentencing is the thought, speech, or animus.

And I do not think that manslaughter v. murder is quite the same thing. Those are different punishments for different circumstances, not for different victims. Enhanced sentencing is for intent, not for emotion. Murder for money is no different than murder for hatred.

However, Matthew Sheppard Bill is not for enhancement. It is for allocation for police assistance. And, as such, may well be a needed resource.

Priya Lynn
July 20th, 2009 | LINK

Timothy said ” If additional punishment is meted solely because of thought, speech, or animus towards the victim’s group, then indeed what is being punished by that ADDITIONAL sentencing is the thought, speech, or animus.”.

Timothy what’s being punished with a hate crime law IS NOT thought, speech, or animus. When one committs a hate crime there are two victims. One victim is the immediate recipient of the violence, the second victim is the larger community to which that victim belongs. Hate crimes not only attack an individual, they terrorize the community to which that victim belongs. It is this second crime which is punished in addition to the first.

Jim Burroway
July 20th, 2009 | LINK

I would disagree with the contention that hate crimes are different punishments for different victims. One of the notions being promoted is that a crime against a gay person will merit a harsher punishment because the person was gay, which simply isn’t true. The law does require the police to look at circumstances, specifically motivation. Which gets us precisely back to the manslaughter vs. murder distinction.

Besides, I think we instinctively understand that a hate crime is different. Even without hate crime enhancements formalized in law, we can all understand why James Byrd, Jr.’s murder might merit a harsher sentence because of the circumstances of the act, compared to, say, my murder at gunpoint during a robbery. Not to say that I wouldn’t want my murder to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but the impacts and circumstances beyond my death are clearly different.

Priya Lynn
July 20th, 2009 | LINK

I would add that the distinction between murder and manslaughter is the same thing. Contrary to what Timothy said the enhanced sentencing in a hate crime law is for intent, not emotion. A person committing a hate crime is only indirectly assaulting a person, their intent is to attack the entire community, to “send a message” to gays, for example.

timothy kincaid
July 20th, 2009 | LINK

Were “sending a message” the intent, such an argument might be convincing. However, that appears to generally be neither the law nor its implementation.

In the most recent case, (forgive me i’m working from my phone so reaearch is limited), the victim was shot in his car because he was gay (or transexual). The intent was murder, the motivation was homophobia, but the courts neither showed nor tried to show that he intended to “send a message”.

I am familiar with the arguments for sentencing enhancements. I just don’t find them convincing. And while I don’t believe them to be a violation of our first amendment rights, I am not a fan of uneven sentencing which relies completely on belief and is evidenced far too often by speech.

I do, however, believe that if hate crimes enhancements are to exist, then it is illogical and even immoral to exclude one of the most frequent victims of identity based crime. And I wholeheartedly support police assistance for solving and tracking.

timothy kincaid
July 20th, 2009 | LINK

… relies compltely on the purpetrator’s beliefs …

Quo
July 20th, 2009 | LINK

Has no one noticed the exploitative sentimentality of naming the hate crimes bill after a particular individual? It implies not only that if you don’t support the bill, you’re somehow failing to respect the individual concerned, but also that his life was more important and more valuable than that of any other person who happens to be homosexual.

Bills like this mark the degeneration of politics into group emotionalism of the most noxious kind.

Priya Lynn
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

Timothy said “the victim was shot in his car because he was gay (or transexual). The intent was murder, the motivation was homophobia, but the courts neither showed nor tried to show that he intended to “send a message”.”.

No, the intent was to attack the gay community in general through the murder of an individual. If such individuals were capable of murdering all gays they would do so, they are unable to so they do the best they can. The attack on the individual is a symbolic attack on anything and everything gay.

AJD
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

The Senate voted to remove the F-22 funding from the bill!

Dan
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

Quo,

Please direct me to the various places where I can read your comments demanding that hate crime protection should be removed from other groups that already get them.

If you can’t, I will simply assume that it only truly bothers you when it comes to protection for gay people.

Timothy Kincaid
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

Priya,

Perhaps I misread the reports.

Can you please link to where you read that the courts determined that the intent was to attack the gay community in general through the murder of an individual?

Priya Lynn
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

Timothy, I didn’t read the court transcrips as I suspect neither did you. Some things go without saying, just as a court murder case may not set out to prove the obvious, that murder is bad, they may not set out to prove that an attack on a gay person the attacker doesn’t know or has never encountered before is motiviated by the desire to attack gay people in general. If this wasn’t the case there’d be no motivation to make the attack in the first place.

Timothy Kincaid
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

So we are in agreement that this is just your opinion and not a matter of fact.

Matt
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

Cnn’s reporting that the Senate voted to strip F-22 funding out of the bill:
http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/07/21/senate.f22/index.html

They don’t say anything about the hate crimes bill in the article, but I’m presuming that’s a major stumbling block out of the way.

Andrew
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

There’s been a lot of comment on this, and again, I’m couching my opinions as my own. Let me say – we’re probably going to disagree because we *believe* differently, not because of the cogency of our arguments. But here goes:

Manslaughter versus murder is not a question of punishing opinions, it’s a question of intent, and the two are not the same. That is: did you lie in wait for your victim, or did you get into a fight, knock them down, and accidentally kill them? Bias already can help prosecutors flesh out intent where circumstances warrant – they don’t need additional laws to prove motivation.

The argument that as an add-on to violent crimes, you’re not prosecuting the opinion is utter twaddle. If the only distinction between two crimes is the bias of the person committing the crime, then enhanced hate crimes punishment obviously selects for specific opinions.

To the gentleman who lost family due to a homophobic attacker: I’m very sorry for your loss. At the risk of being insensitive, however, I’m no more prepared to sacrifice my First Amendment rights (even though this law includes me) because of your specific case than I would be to give up my Second Amendment rights because someone was tragically shot with a firearm. Or perhaps I should give up my right to own a tire iron?

With respect to race and religion: I believe hate crimes of any kind should be discarded. How are they even constitutional? First degree murder is first degree murder. I’m no fan of so-called terrorism laws. I mean, do we really need more laws to indicate what we’re supposed to do with someone who blows up a building, shoots doctors, burns churches, or invades a gay bar? I’m sorry – was the pre-existing law unclear?

Which brings me to the “stabbing someone 61 times as free speech” argument. Great straw-man argument – no one is making it but you. Whether someone is stabbed 61 times because the victim was gay, was a jerk, was wearing ugly paisley, or because it was easier than divorce is irrelevant. Stabbing someone 61 times is murder. Except for the paisley situation – that’s self-defense.

I don’t need to “imagine” myself as a member of a marginalized group, I *am* a member of 2 marginalized groups. I’m gay, and I’m tiny. Guess which one has caused me more grief. By the argument of Hate Crimes proponents, I should get relief because short people are discriminated against (documented studies show this re: on the job, are more likely to be subject to attack, and are far more likely to be victimized). I’ve been mugged twice because I was perceived as an easy mark based on my size. I understand terrorizing just fine: it was called Grades K-12. The point is, the Bill of Rights applies equally to everyone. Where officials fail to protect equally in that regard, it’s the institutions and the culture, not the laws, that have problems. Fix your police force – because regardless of any new Hate Crimes law, they’ll find a way to ignore you then, if that’s how they’re playing it now. You don’t address bullying in schools by deciding who can and who can’t be bullied. You fire the teachers who don’t enforce the rules equally.

The Bill of Rights is not something to be tinkered with lightly, and every time you take a little piece out of it to suit yourself, you undermine the whole thing. We need no better example than the Christians who demanded the rights to meet on school grounds, then watched in horror as gay groups used their victory to force gay-straight alliances across the country. I’m not siding with those hateful people, but to point out that unintended consequences are very real and usually unpredictable. The Bill of Rights, when applied correctly, guarantees our rights to be treated equally. Do practicalities meet our ideals? Sometimes not. But you strive to fix your society, you don’t dismantle the Constitution.

Again, I think arguments in this thread – mine included – are more rooted in belief than in thought. Which means I’m either preaching to the choir or to deaf ears. But I’m hoping that what we get is a wider audience of people who are seeing this question for the first time, who had been merely reflexive in their thinking, or who maybe think the LGBT community is monolithic in their opinions. Discussion, debate, questioning… I love free speech!

Eddie89
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

Our legal system has long understood that crimes are committed for a variety of reasons – and it has responded accordingly. The murder of a person over money or for their possessions is different from the murder of a person for being gay or disabled. It is intended to be. This is no different than the distinction between manslaughter and first-degree murder, two types of murder that are distinguished by the intent of the person committing the act.

Hate crimes laws protecting black Americans and people of faith are already on the books because our society recognized that the kind of attacks these groups suffered were designed to terrorize entire categories of people, not just the victim.

This is the same situation for sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability. Passing this bill sends a powerful message about the importance of all our nation’s citizens, regardless of whom they are or their sexual orientation.

Jason D
July 21st, 2009 | LINK

“Manslaughter versus murder is not a question of punishing opinions,”

but it is, the opinion that my life is worth defending, even with deadly force.

“it’s a question of intent, and the two are not the same.”

Intent doesn’t have anything to do with opinion? Or are you saying crimes aren’t motivated by opinions? Motive is part of any criminal investigation and most certainly part of sentencing.

“That is: did you lie in wait for your victim, or did you get into a fight, knock them down, and accidentally kill them?”

So you’re punishing someone for their thoughts of murder, their thoughts of victimizing someone else. You’re punishing their actions and their thoughts!

And you’re rewarding the person who didn’t have those thoughts but still killed someone.

Don’t both victims deserve justice? Or does the one who had more “thought” put into his murder deserve more justice?

You can’t get around the fact that every crime has an opinion. Whether that opinion is that “I deserve your stuff more than you” or “I think gays should be dead” — we are already punishing thought along with action. The key being action. We don’t currently punish people for just their thoughts, and hate crimes legislation doesn’t change that one iota.

andrew
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

OK, let’s try this one more time:
The statement “I hate purple people” is protected speech, like it or not.

Neither killing someone on purpose, nor killing someone by accident are related to “opinion” but to intent. If this is unclear, consult a dictionary. So, in fact Jason, no, I don’t think we should punish someone who pushes someone away, accidentally causes them to fall down, crack their head open and die – something they never intended, in quite the same way that we treat someone who stalks a victim for days, breaks into their car, waits for them and kills them, just as they planned for months.

As far as I can tell, no one sane does.

Eddie, I don’t buy the “terrorizing groups” theory of collective justice. How am I not terrorized every time I hear gunfire among the gangbangers down the block from me? How am I not chilled to the bone by the fact that at age 12, I sold magazine subscriptions, unsupervised, to a man who would, 6 months later, chop up his girlfriend into little pieces exactly where I stood with my little clipboard? It’s nothing more than an excuse to parlay identity politics into a judicial advantage using PAC group leverage. And that’s intrinsically corrosive to society and the rule of law.

Someone burns a cross? Nail them for arson and assault. Someone beats a gay man, nail them with assault, battery, and probably attempted murder. It’s totally unclear why existing laws are inadequate… except that you don’t like how haters think, and you’d like to make them pay. And that’s not your privilege, nor mine.

The test of free speech is how a society reacts to unpopular speech. Personally, I like my freedoms, and if I’m the sort who’s willing to give them up for a little security, or so that I can feel fully valued, well then, as has been said, I don’t deserve them.

Jason D
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

Fictional Example:
Kid’s birthday party. I’m there, so is Pickles the clown. In full view of everyone at the party I stab Pickles with a knife. This is also caught on video by neighbor on her back porch. Action: stabbing a clown. Result: death. Now, one would think if we’re only concerned with actions the trial would only take as long as it takes for all the witnesses to testify and to show the video tape. My fingerprints are on the knife and multiple witnesses saw me stab the clown. Open and shut, right?

Nope.

My defense is that it was an accident. That I thought it was a fake knife and that Pickle’s costume was thick enough that I didn’t think he’d be hurt.

The prosecution is going to try to paint me as a cold blooded killer.

My defense team is going to call character witnesses. Why are they allowed to do this? Character witnesses can’t refute my action. So why is this allowed, and why is their testimony relevent?

Why does it matter whether I’m a cold blooded killer or a nice guy who made a mistake? We’re only supposed to be dealing with my actions. I stabbed a clown, shouldn’t it be a done deal then?

Nope.

The prosecution is going to investigate me. They’re going to talk to friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers —anyone who knows me. They’re going to go through my email, text messages, phone call record, voicemail, and they’re going to record any conversations I have while in custody. Why are my emails, text messages, and conversations admissable in court?? These are my expressions, my thoughts, my ideas. We’re only supposed to be concerned with my actions.

They’re going to look for the magic words. They’re going to hope I was stupid enough to say or write “I’m going to kill Pickles the clown.” They will also accept “I’m going to kill clowns”. Shouldn’t my defense attorney be able to wave the 1st Amendment in front of the judge and jury and get that stricken from the record? Isn’t that free speech? Nope. It establishes motive.

Let’s say they don’t find the magic words. Let’s say instead they find numerous occassions where I have said “I hate clowns” or “Clowns suck” and everyone’s favorite “I wish there were no clowns”. They find a painting that I did of a clown (dressed almost like pickles) with a knife wound bleeding to death. What about free speech and expression? Aren’t I allowed to have a bias against clowns? Nope. It establishes motive.

Now none of this would matter if I hadn’t stabbed a clown. But since I did, this is all evidence toward motive.

Aren’t I being persecuted for not liking clowns? No, I’m being charged with killing a clown, and anything I’ve said or done against clowns helps establish my mental state. Actions are the point of arrest, but who I am is relevant, what I think is also relevant. Our legal system would be much simpler if we only punished actions, but we don’t. People have been able to talk their way out of tickets by admitting their guilt and reasoning with the officer. Court cases establish not only what the person did, but if he or she is the kind of person who would do it.

Let’s say they don’t find any of that. Let’s say my defense presents situations where I said “I love clowns” or “clowns are great” and establish that I was best friends with Pickles. That outside of his work, Pickles and I are always seen together. We’ve never argued. Pickles even saved my life last week when I almost drowned. Shouldn’t all that be irrelevent? I still stabbed him. He’s still dead. Nope. It has to do with intent, motive.

Let’s not forget remorse. Whether it was an accident or on purpose if I don’t express true remorse for what I’ve done — that’s going to count against me. That’s right, my expression of remorse matters. My feelings matter. If I don’t give a crap, I’m going to get a harsher sentence.

If we only care about actions, then character witnesses and motive are irrelavent. Accident or on purpose is also irrelevent. I stabbed him. he’s dead. It should be murder, clear cut. But we all know there’s a lot more going into that. If it’s well established that I’m a nice person who wouldn’t hurt a fly and that I feel really bad about this — I’m probably going to be charged with negligent manslaughter. But if it’s established that I’m a jerk who hates clowns and doesn’t care that I killed one, I’m probably going to get murder, a life sentence, and or a lethal injection.

So it’s rather absurd and naive to suggest that hate crimes are some new spin on law where we suddenly care, convict, and punish based on thoughts, opinions (MOTIVES) rather than pure, simple action.

Thoughts, beliefs, feelings can make the difference between a manslaughter conviction and a murder conviction.

Priya Lynn
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

Timothy said “So we are in agreement that this is just your opinion and not a matter of fact.”.

Just like we are in agreemment that it is just your opinion and not a matter of fact when you said “what is being punished by that ADDITIONAL sentencing is the thought, speech, or animus.”

Timothy Kincaid
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

Jason,

You do realize that your example works against your position, don’t you?

You have laid out the classic hate crime discovery and testimony: statements about hating clowns, bias against clowns, etc.

The distinction is that if you did kill Pickles the Clown you would be tried for murder.

If, however, you replace the word “clown” with the word “gay” in your above example, you would be tried for murder AND a hate crime.

Two identical crimes, both with hatred of a group of people as the motivation for the action, one with a longer sentence than the other. This is the sort of thing that bothers some of us.

I, personally, am troubled by the idea that hatred of clowns, or the McCoys, or urbanites, or my inlaws, has different sentencing considerations than hatred for blacks or gays or Catholics.

Priya Lynn
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

Timothy said “Two identical crimes, both with hatred of a group of people as the motivation for the action, one with a longer sentence than the other. This is the sort of thing that bothers some of us.”.

Timothy, the difference is there isn’t a history of society singling out clowns for violence solely on the condition of their being clowns. If that should happen then the hate crimes statutes should rightfully include clowns and I would happily support that. That’s why there’s a difference in these two situations – the law addresses a systemic societal problem, something that doesn’t exist with clowns.

Priya Lynn
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

What I hear Timothy saying is that there there’s a systemic problem with society singling out groups of people for violence because of who they are we shouldn’t use the law to try and remediate the situation, we should just look the other way – that’s wrong.

Priya Lynn
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

That should say “What I hear Timothy saying is that when there’s a systemic problem with society singling out groups of people for violence…”

Jason D
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

“I, personally, am troubled by the idea that hatred of clowns, or the McCoys, or urbanites, or my inlaws, has different sentencing considerations than hatred for blacks or gays or Catholics.”

Timothy, why are you troubled by that and yet NOT troubled by the fact that while my action was the same regardless, my personality and personal feelings have an effect on sentencing.

And in my example, I did kill the clown. That’s not what’s up for debate, and certainly not what the focus of the trial would be. Why does that not bother you in this non-hate crime example, but does bother you when it has to do with embattered minorities? I’m puzzled.

And I think Priya puts it best. Hate Crimes are systemic problems requiring a systemic solution.

Timothy Kincaid
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

Jason,

You say that the murder of a clown because you hate clowns is a non-hate crime. But the murder of a gay man because you hate gay men is a hate crime.

In these two equal examples, the action, the motivation, the personal feelings and anything else about the crime were identical. It was a murder motivated by hatred of the group to which the individual belonged.

Agreed?

The only difference was the group. Clowns = not a hate crime. Gays = hate crime.

The sentencing of the murderer is – in this instance – determined solely by to which group the victim belongs. Some groups are protected, others are not.

You may find this reasonable. I find it troubling.

You certainly don’t have to agree with me. But I do hope you understand what I’m saying.

Timothy Kincaid
July 22nd, 2009 | LINK

Priya

Timothy, the difference is there isn’t a history of society singling out clowns for violence solely on the condition of their being clowns. If that should happen then the hate crimes statutes should rightfully include clowns and I would happily support that. That’s why there’s a difference in these two situations – the law addresses a systemic societal problem, something that doesn’t exist with clowns.

In this we agree.

But I do not believe that a criminal should be punished for systemic societal problems.

Simply because anti-gay crimes occur with much higher regularity than anti-clown crimes does not – in my view – merit addition punishment.

What I hear Timothy saying is that when there there’s a systemic problem with society singling out groups of people for violence because of who they are we shouldn’t use the law to try and remediate the situation, we should just look the other way – that’s wrong.

As is so often the case, you are hearing things that aren’t there. Of course I haven’t said we should look the other way. You didn’t hear it, I didn’t say it. Instead you just decided to smear me. It’s really annoying, you know – but fortunately it reflects on you, not me.

Systemic problems do need additional police resources, crimes tracking, specific task forces, and other methods of dealing with the problem. But not victim-group based punishment.

Priya Lynn
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

Timothy, systemic problems like these deserve every legal effort that we can put forward to addressing them. I’m disappointed you don’t feel the same way. And you did say we shouldn’t try to use the law in this way to remediate the situation – now that reflects negatively on you, not me.

Timothy Kincaid
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

Priya,

I don’t agree that systemic problems deserve every legal effort. I’ve observed politics long enough to know that quite often the “solutions” become bigger problems than the issues they seek to solve and not uncommonly result in precisely the opposite consequence as desired.

On this issue, like many, you and I come from very different ideological perspectives.

Priya Lynn
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

So, do you have any examples of the hate crimes solution becomeing a bigger problem than the issue it seeks to resolve? I wonder, prior to the proposal to add gays to the hate crimes law how often did you ever oppose it?

Timothy (TRiG)
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

How are other clowns (who didn’t know Pickles personally) going to feel when they hear of Pickles’ death? Will they be frightened? Would they have reason to be frightened?

There is a very real difference here, and it’s not, on the face of it, ridiculous for that difference to be echoed in law. Law should be based on reality, and reality on the ground is a little different for clowns and for gay people.

Whether or not you agree with hate crimes legislation, you have to agree that there is a rationale for it. It’s not pulled out of the air.

And I stand by the second paragraph of my post above:

Either no hate-crimes legislation, or full hate-crimes legislation. The only reason to want partial hate-crimes legislation (such as exists in the USA at the moment) is prejudice and bias.

TRiG.

Timothy Kincaid
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

Priya,

I wonder, prior to the proposal to add gays to the hate crimes law how often did you ever oppose it?

Are you accusing me of anti-gay bigotry? I think perhaps you are a bit too emotionally vested in “winning” the argument.

Priya Lynn
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

I’m not accusing you of anything, you’re hearing things I didn’t say. I was just curious – care to answer the question, or do you want to change the subject?

Timothy Kincaid
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

TRiG,

I agree that there is rationale for hate crimes legislation. I don’t find it convincing, but that isn’t to say that others won’t.

I think we all agree that there is, in Priya’s words, a systemic societal problem. But it is not reasonable to demand that we all agree on the solution.

However, I do fully agree with you:

Either no hate-crimes legislation, or full hate-crimes legislation. The only reason to want partial hate-crimes legislation (such as exists in the USA at the moment) is prejudice and bias.

Or, as I said it,

I do, however, believe that if hate crimes enhancements are to exist, then it is illogical and even immoral to exclude one of the most frequent victims of identity based crime.

Timothy Kincaid
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

Priya,

I’ve never favored hate crimes sentencing enhancements. I’ve always favored allocating resources for solving and tracking hate crimes. And I’ve always believed that sexual orientation should be included in such groups as are defined by hate crimes laws in the same way that race and religion are.

This is not a new position for me nor should any observant person be surprised by my position.

Incidentally, I don’t oppose the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Bill. I support it.

Priya Lynn
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

Timothy, I sense some congnitive dissonance. You say you’ve never favoured hate crimes sentencing enhancements and that you support the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Bill. You can’t have it both ways.

Timothy Kincaid
July 23rd, 2009 | LINK

Read my last two comments carefully. If you still sense cognitive dissonance, I guess I’ll just have to live with you having such a perception.

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