The recent horrible story of four black Chicago youths torturing a mentally challenged white teenager focused our attention on hate crimes. First, was this a hate crime? Obviously it was. Second, should we have hate crime laws in the first place?
The logic against hate crime laws is that a crime is a crime. If a person is beat up, the person is not more beat up because of the motive. The legal system should punish the action, not the intention. Therefore, we should not have hate crime laws. This link from Victor Davis Hanson, “Time to Scrap Hate Crime Laws“, reflects this position.
I have two arguments against this. First, the legal system routinely includes intent in determining the severity of the crime. First degree, premeditated, murder results in much harder sentences than manslaughter.Second, hate crimes have many more victims than the person directly affected.
For example, one person is beat up because the assailant doesn’t like him. The victims here are the person assaulted along with friends and family who care about this person. Another assailant beats up a person because he is black or gay or Jewish or part of any other hated group. Here we have additional victims: the entire community of the hated group. The criminal is terrorizing an entire community, sending a message that I attacked this person today and it might be you tomorrow.
Due to this terror, a hate crime is worse even if superficially the damage is the same. Therefore, it is proper for our legal system to have harsher penalties for hate crimes.