‘Hate crime’ legislation redundant, unfair

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (U-WIRE) — There is a growing trend in this nation to look to the federal government to take care of all the needs of the people in these United States. The war on drugs has greatly expanded the jurisdiction, and the docket, of the federal court system with negligible, some might argue detrimental, results.
We’ve seen expansion of federal power in the Anti-Car Theft Act of 1992, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994 and the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992. Now the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999 is being offered as another federal cure-all. Although the intention of hate crime legislation is good and supposedly just, it is actually a path that a so-called free society must avoid for a number of reasons.
Foremost, U.S. Code already prohibits certain hate crimes committed on the basis of, or perceived, race, color, religion or national origin while participating in six federally protected activities (voting, employment, public schooling, serving as a juror, using certain public accommodations and activities of interstate commerce).
The new bill would add sexual orientation, gender or disability and be expanded beyond the six federally protected activities. So why is all this a bad idea? What kind of heartless individual would oppose legislation that would enhance the punishment of bigots and send a message that we will not tolerate hate and prejudice in America?
That is the basis of the argument in favor of “hate crime” legislation — demonizing anyone who would objectively look at this legislation and realize the pitfalls of trying to legislate morality.
Opponents are portrayed as insensitive and uncaring — the worst crime in politics these days it seems. This is unfair and an uneducated approach to debating a very important topic — should the federal government in effect punish a person more harshly for his or her beliefs? If you think it should, consider what you are saying.
To begin with, hate crime legislation is redundant. Proponents would have you believe that countless criminals are walking around free because the federal government wasn’t able to prosecute them under the current statute.
They fail to mention that local and state laws already cover the crimes that are committed. So the question is not that hate crimes are bad, which they are, but whether the state authorities are adequately prosecuting these cases under their existing laws.
Legislators need to apply the “Lincoln-Eisenhower Test” before usurping power from the state level. Matters that can be adequately handled by the states should be left to them; matters that cannot be so handled should be undertaken by the federal government.
What evidence is there to support the need for the federal government to encroach on a state’s jurisdiction? The state court system was designed for such matters, but the federal court system was not. By creating two parallel court systems, legislators would only serve to make the courts less efficient.
But that’s not the point, the proponents cry. The idea here is to punish more severely the bigot and send a message that we will “not tolerate intolerance.”
But if you are to believe that we have a system that holds all equal under the law, or is at least is supposed to, how can you justify the enhancement of punishment for someone who holds beliefs that are different from yours, no matter how ugly or ignorant?
Proponents would argue that the law applies to everyone, because in theory a white person or a heterosexual could also be the victim of a hate crime.
However, given the recent media blackout concerning the murder and rape of a 13-year-old Arkansas boy by two gay men, it is apparent that hate crime legislation is not simply a tool for promoting tolerance, but a specific means to push a political and social agenda.
Proponents would argue the Arkansas case is not necessarily a hate crime, because the motive of the two individuals was not to attack the boy and send a “message” to the heterosexual community simply because of his sexual orientation. Proponents argue this kind of crime should be punished more severely. It comes down to proving the motive and underlying ideas behind the crime. In this case it looks as though the two men only repeatedly raped and ultimately suffocated the boy with his own underwear because they enjoyed it, not because they “hated” him. I’m relieved, are you?
Motive can be difficult to prove in a criminal case. While people have committed crimes throughout history for all sorts of reasons, society feels compelled to target hate crimes as deserving special consideration and harsher punishments.
This is a dangerous trend because in order to prove what a person was thinking at the time of the crime, the prosecution will be likely to investigate the defendant’s associations and ideologies.
Mumia Abu-Jamal and those supporting his cause lament the fact that the prosecution brought up his affiliation with the Black Panthers and his anti-police rhetoric at the time of his sentencing, yet that is exactly what hate crime legislation would accomplish.
Although I do not argue that not all crimes are equal, punishing a person more severely for holding unpopular views is not something that should be legislated.
Instead of letting the state court system do its job, the federal government would like the power to step in and prosecute certain cases because the perpetrator, or more likely the victim, was a member of a certain group.
No matter how righteous the intentions, in the context of a free society, we must punish crimes — not ideologies.

Greg Bock’s column originally appeared in Wednesday’s Pennsylvania State University paper, the Daily Collegian