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Is a Murder a Murder?

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There has been much discussion in political circles, and in the general population about hate crimes. There have been several well publicized hate crimes in the last months.

I even had a discussion with someone who wanted to form a “governmental militia-type unit” to wipe out the hate groups.

On one side of the fence, making penalties more stringent for “hate crimes” is legislating thought, and is strongly opposed.

On the other side, “hate crimes” are more heinous because they are motivated by prejudices, hatred, they are usually more organized, and “cheered” by hate groups who foster their agendas.

I don’t believe there is ANY sane human being (aside from members of groups like the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and the myriad of other hate groups which slink around promulgating their cause) who would disagree that hate crimes are onerous.

Their members do not grow up in a vacuum. Their behavior is either learned and stems from a similar environment, or is a result of a misfit being accepted by a group of people (no matter how heinous) which accepts them to increase their number.

Is a murder a murder? Or is a murder motivated by the philosophies of a hate group worse. Should the penalties be more strict, swift and sure for the perpetrators of hate crimes that result in bodily harm than they are for your basic convenience store robbery which resulted in the same outcome?

I am of the firm belief that we cannot attempt to legislate morality. One man’s pornography is another man’s art. One man’s vice is another man’s pleasure, one person’s definition of love is different from some other… (with the exceptions of course which need not even be stated of people who prey on children). There are penalties for rape, murder, assault, battery, and other human injury in place. Are they sufficient for hate crimes?

Or are hate crimes so heinous to their very core that they should be punished differently?

An interesting question….with many different answers.

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About Claire

  • http://nightdragon.diaryland.com Mark Edward Manning

    A crime is a crime is a crime … racially/ethnically motivated or otherwise. Only difference, these are the only criminals that liberals want to punish … no chance at rehabilitation for them!

  • Claire

    Mark, as usual, I agree with you. But I will say the moderate Democrats in congress are taking a hard look at it and “as it were” sticking it in a box, because it doesn’t play well at election time. It will be interesting to see what happens come February, with a new congress and and old president :)

    Claire

  • boomcrashbaby

    I’m surprised Claire, that you agree with the statement that racially or ethnically motivated crimes are the only crimes liberals want to punish.

    I support hate crime laws.

    On one side of the fence, making penalties more stringent for “hate crimes” is legislating thought, and is strongly opposed.

    A hate crime law is most certainly NOT legislating thought.

    I support a hate crime law because a hate crime law addresses the terror that citizens feel above and beyond the crime at hand. (and by my justification for hate crime laws, serial killers and serial rapists would also qualify for the additional hate crime penalty).

    I support hate crime laws because if a woman is attacked while walking to her car, we all think it’s horrible and keep an extra eye open when we go to our cars, and shake our heads at the state of crime today, etc. and we go on with our lives.

    However, when we find out that the woman was targeted because she was a practicing Christian for example, and that the attacker stalked an evening service in order to track her down, then suddenly all Christians in the area feel targeted and terrorized. Some may quit going to the evening service. People live in fear, in terror. The community is adversely affected to a greater extent than the ole ‘run of the mill’ murder.

    The hate crime law does not punish the attacker for the ‘thought’. It punishes the attacker for the greater damage done to the community.

    A hate crime does not legislate thought. A penalty for premeditated murder does, and yet nobody is concerned about that.

  • Claire

    Steve, I am pleased that you responded to the post. I respect your opinions….

    But legislating stiffer penalties for “hate crimes” IS leglislating thought.

    I don’t agree that liberals only want to punish hate crimes….I know that it might have been an oversimplification.

    We can’t punish more stringently that which we don’t agree with. If we do, then then the pornographer who is killed (if thats something you happen to disagree with) “deserved” it.

    There is nothing worse than hate crimes to me. Don’t misunderstand my position. Crimes against the gay, the arab, the black, the fundamentalist, the abortion clinic are all heinous. But can we afford to punish those crimes perpetrated in the name of what we disagree with more stringently.

    I admit, I don’t know the answer. I was tempted to agree with the person I had the discussion with who suggested that all hate groups be eliminated from the earth. But I know that we can’t do that. They have a right to think, feel, promote, and promulgate their organizations until they step over the line and perpetrate violence in their names.

    I appreciate your thoughtful opinion….

    Claire

  • andy marsh

    I have one problem with what you wrote Claire…you put the word sane in the same sentence with KKK and neo-nazi…

  • boomcrashbaby

    But legislating stiffer penalties for “hate crimes” IS leglislating thought.

    I disagree because I believe the hate crime law is punishing for the additional terror that the community feels, not for the thoughts going through the attackers head.

    We can’t punish more stringently that which we don’t agree with.

    Oh but society does all the time. I have firsthand knowledge of that.

    If we do, then then the pornographer who is killed (if thats something you happen to disagree with) “deserved” it.

    Not at all. There are still murder charges that can be applied. Every time a gay person is killed there are thousands or tens of thousands who happen to think it was deserved. As wrong as that is, nobody is trying to legislate that thought.

    Take my example above. If the attacker gets life for the woman’s murder, justice was done. In a hate crime case, if the attacker gets life for the woman’s murder, and an additional 20 years for terrorizing the community, it does not imply that in the original scenario, the woman deserved it.

    But can we afford to punish those crimes perpetrated in the name of what we disagree with more stringently.

    you keep bringing up disagreement. It’s not about legislating an ideology that I disagree with.

    And besides America legislates crimes/ideologies that we disagree with all the time.

    A good example is the Matthew Lymon case in Kansas. Matthew at 17 years old, lived in a home for the developmentally disabled. He performed oral sex on a 15 year old. BOTH were minors. According to Kansas law, if the other minor was a female he would have been sentenced to 6 months to a year in prison. Instead because it was same-sex, a 17 year old developmentally disabled minor was sentenced to 30 years in a federal penitentary. (Case is being handled by ACLU and will most likely end up in the Supreme Court within a year or so). In the meantime, think of what Matthew is going through as we type BECAUSE society constantly prioritizes crimes and criminals based on that which it disagrees with.

    I admit, I don’t know the answer. I was tempted to agree with the person I had the discussion with who suggested that all hate groups be eliminated from the earth.

    Well, I wouldn’t agree with that. It’s not possible or realistic, and I don’t suggest eliminating anybody. I happen to be against the death penalty as well.

  • andy marsh

    A question boom – what is life plus 20 years? Rather than adding more laws wouldn’t it be easier to just try some truth in sentencing?

  • Claire

    Steve…but most of the “community” isn’t gay….wouldn’t they be more outraged at the random rape and murder of a woman on the way to her car after the laundromat?

    The murder charges that would be applied to the pornographer, would also be applied to the murder of an innocent citizen buying bread at the 7-11….do you think the extra 20 years on top of the life sentence is some kind of deterrent? Maybe it is…thats why I am asking…

    When a gay, or an ethnicity, or a pro-choice establisment is targeted…WHY does that make it worse than someone going postal in a McDonalds because he had a bad day at the office?

    You state that we legislate ideologies all the time in America….examples please so that I may respond?

    I am a proponent of the death penalty, which will come as no surprise. It is not “murder” it is “punishment”, and if it gives one ounce of satisfaction to the family of the victim, deterrent or not, and if it saves me ONE PENNY of sustenance over a lifetime, then hooray.

    Oh Matthew Lymon will be before the Supreme Court, never doubt it. They will rule that the sex of the person has no bearing on the case, and that whatever penalties would have normally applied in the circumstance between a male minor and a female minor will apply. Which is just and right. But in all liklihood, he will be found incapable of forming intent, so it will be remanded, or dismissed.

    I REALLY do want your thoughts on this, Steve….

    How do we currently formulate legislation based on ideology?

    Claire

  • boomcrashbaby

    Steve…but most of the “community” isn’t gay….wouldn’t they be more outraged at the random rape and murder of a woman on the way to her car after the laundromat?

    A hate crime law isn’t intended to address the terror of the ‘majority’ community. In the case of a hate crime against a gay person, the gay community feels terrorized, it shouldn’t be dismissed just because they aren’t in the majority. A hate crime against a Jewish person in an area predominately Mormon area shouldn’t be dismissed just because of the locale. No, I don’t see the reasoning here.

    ….do you think the extra 20 years on top of the life sentence is some kind of deterrent? Maybe it is…thats why I am asking…

    No, I think it is a penalty for the crime of terrorizing. The life sentence would be for the murder, the 20 years would be for the terrorizing. In most other countries stringent laws serve as a deterrent, but not here in America.

    When a gay, or an ethnicity, or a pro-choice establisment is targeted…WHY does that make it worse than someone going postal in a McDonalds because he had a bad day at the office?

    Quite simply put because more people are terrorized and have their lives disrupted. Unfortunately I’m really rushed for time, I like to give my responses more thought than I can right now. I’d like the ability to respond more completely tonight, so that I can have time to gather data and put into words, experiences and perceptions that some have never experienced or cannot perceive from their own life events.

    I am a proponent of the death penalty, which will come as no surprise. It is not “murder” it is “punishment”, and if it gives one ounce of satisfaction to the family of the victim, deterrent or not, and if it saves me ONE PENNY of sustenance over a lifetime, then hooray.

    I do not support the ideology of taking a human life for financial savings. Why not put the criminal to work to support his upkeep and for victim compensation?

    I REALLY do want your thoughts on this, Steve….
    How do we currently formulate legislation based on ideology?

    Please give me time to gather specifics. One concept to think of, though, Claire, is that morality itself is based on ideology. ANY laws that stem from morality would be based on ideology. Age of Consent laws, because they vary from state to state, stem from the morality of the populace. In some states a 14 year old can marry, in others they cannot. This is not because 14 year olds are more mature in a certain state, it is because of the ideology of the populace about when a child reaches adulthood.

    This isn’t the best example, but I want time to gather specific instances and examples of the ones I am thinking of, before I open them for debate.

  • Claire

    Steve, take all the time you need. I really want your opinion….

    Claire

  • boomcrashbaby

    Claire, you asked what ideologies we currently legislate. I want to talk about that, then I want to expand more on the rationale for hate crimes since that is the main topic of this blog. And I thank you and anybody else ahead of time, who, in this MTV world, has the ability to read all that I’m about to write. :-)

    Briefly, legislating morality:
    1) Prostitution. I understand that there are many women in the field who didn’t get there by choice, and who are used and abused. That is horrible and wrong. But I had to leave home at a very early age. I lived on the streets and did what I had to do to survive. (an admittance I’ve made, that is being held against me to this day by a few rhetoric loving conservatives here at BC.) I only did it for a short time, and because I was young, alone and hungry. Anyway, by the end of it, I had adapted mentally enough so that I was the equivalent of the stripper who was working her way through her doctorate. (I didn’t put myself through school that way, but you get the idea). I wasn’t used and abused. There are those of us who can handle it. But our ability to do what we want with our bodies is legislated by morality. By ideology. (For the record, I’ve been monogamous for almost 20 years. This is an example, not a law I want repealed for own personal reasons).

    2) legalization of marijuana. Alcohol kills 10’s of thousands a year. Smoking has no benefit beyond stress reduction, (which marijuana also does but with a lower fatality rate). Any law telling me what I can and cannot put in my body, is designed for ‘my benefit’, which stems from societies moral perception of protecting my life, which overrides my own ownership of my body to ingest/inhale what I want. There is a moral ideology to protect my life, even from my own self if need be that creates many laws, right on down to motorcycle helmet laws. In fact, the hemp plant, from which marijuana is made, is also illegal. This is despite the fact that it can be used to make rope. That’s just plain silly.

    3) which brings us to right-to-die laws. Do you want to tell me there is no moral ideology going on, telling me what I can do with my own body? I want the right to leave this world with dignity. You’ve heard of the Terri Schavo case, I’m sure. But even beyond the vegetative state, I don’t want to go through a deteroriation of something like Alzheimers or Parkinson’s, etc. (heaven forbid). And when the time comes that I know I still have the ability to make my own decisions, I want to choose to leave. Moral ideology legislates against that.

    I’ve already mentioned age of consent laws. Won’t get into that again. For the record, I want to say my daughter won’t have consent from me or be giving consent to anyone until she’s 21. I’m working on building the ivory tower in my spare time.

    We legislate morality and ideology in many instances beyond those. But I want to get into the rational behind a hate crime, which I do not perceive to be legislating thought as you would have it.

    I acknowledge that some hate crime laws might be poorly written, I don’t know them all and don’t want to defend them all against that claim.

    A hate crime is a crime against a person motivated primarily by group hatred. The crime against the person can be defined in different ways, murder, harassment, threat of force, property damage (desecrating churches, burning gay bars, etc.) and the group hatred is defined as the hatred that members of one group harbor towards members of another group, simply on the grounds of their belonging to that other group–for example, the hatred that certain Hindus feel towards Muslims, or certain heterosexuals towards gays and lesbians.

    It is plausible that the terrorist atrocity of September 11 was primarily motivated by group hatred–specifically, by hatred of Americans. So, given this understanding of “hate crime,” John Ashcroft was right to describe it as a hate crime.

    (In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 25, 2001, US Attorney General John Ashcroft described the terrorist atrocity of September 11 as “perhaps the most massive hate crime ever perpetrated.”)

    Indeed, many of the most monstrous crimes of human history–including genocide and other crimes against humanity–were plausibly also motivated by group hatred. So, according to this understanding of the term, those crimes were also hate crimes.

    The statutory definitions of “hate crime” make no mention of hatred. Instead, these statutes, in effect, define “hate crime” as “criminal conduct motivated by prejudice”. For example, Alabama law defines a hate crime as “a Class A felony that was … motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability”

    In fact, it is not hard to see why many people regard crimes against the person that are motivated by group hatred with special horror. When such crimes become widespread, communities often degenerate into widespread civil strife or even war, as seen recently in Bosnia and Rwanda. Such crimes often form part of the systematic oppression of certain social groups, as when the fear of hate crime keeps gays and lesbians from coming out of the closet. As I mentioned previously, group hatred also seems to have motivated some of the most monstrous crimes in human history.

    You might reply that many other crimes, such as “random street violence, carjackings,” and the like, cause widespread fear as well. But consider the point that the prevalence of hate crimes causes other social harms besides fear, by underpinning the oppression of certain specific groups, or by reinforcing social divisions and hatred.

    “If the purpose of hate crime laws is to punish more severely offenders who are motivated by prejudices, is that not equivalent to punishing hate speech or hate thought?” you ask.

    This argument was considered by the US Supreme Court in a 1993 case, Wisconsin v. Mitchell. In that case, the Court unanimously rejected this argument, and ruled that hate crime laws are consistent with the First Amendment. According to the Court’s opinion, which was authored by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, hate crime laws do not penalize thought or speech (no one, after all, is punished for merely having prejudiced attitudes, or for expressing such attitudes in speech alone); hate crime laws penalize conduct (such as murder, assault, or criminal harassment). Moreover, as Rehnquist pointed out in his opinion, judges traditionally take account of motives in determining the sentence for criminal conduct: “Motives are most relevant when the trial judge sets the defendant’s sentence, and it is not uncommon for a defendant to receive a minimum sentence because he was acting for good motives, or a rather higher sentence because of his bad motives” (Wisconsin v. Mitchell).

    The criminal law is not punishing motives per se at all. It is punishing the complex whole that consists of the perpetrator’s criminal conduct being caused by a motive of a certain kind. Indeed, this is exactly what punishing criminal conduct typically involves–since (as Rehnquist pointed out) motives typically play a role in determining sentences. In short, hate crime laws punish conduct, not speech or thought.

    Is it wrong to punish an act of treason or terrorism more severely because it is motivated by the “political” goal of overthrowing the government of the United States? Is it wrong to treat genocide as a different crime from other kinds of mass murder, on the grounds that it is motivated by the “political” attitude that a certain ethnic group deserves to be exterminated?

    There is a great difference between a bar fight that spontaneously erupts over a girl and laying in wait to attack a stranger because of a group they belong to. The criminal in the second case poses a far greater danger to society, and should pay a far greater price.

    Trying an incident like that without hate crimes laws, however, often leads to charges of simple assault, and maybe a weekend spent picking up litter as the punishment. And the following weekend the attacker winds up targeting another black man, or gay man, or Jew, or Asian, or whatever, to beat the crap out them for the simple reason that he doesn’t like them.

    Hate crimes laws do not punish people for their thoughts. They punish criminals for their actions. It is another tool a prosecutor can use to help get violent criminals who are likely to be repeat offenders off our streets. The ability to use hate crimes statutes helps to prove intent, premeditation, and conspiracy. And get convictions.

    It is true that there may be some cases where violence is committed against a Christian white heterosexual male simply because he belongs to that group. And I would agree that in those cases hate crimes laws should be applied.

    There’s a larger problem here that hate crimes laws are addressing. While we’ve made great strides towards the elimination of prejudice in our society, and while most people truly are well-meaning and free of such hate, there are also militias training for race wars against anybody of color, there are active KKK chapters burning crosses and worse, there are groups of skin-heads worshipping Adolph Hitler, and there is a clear and present danger to any group that is seen as a minority or outsider population.

    Yes, motive counts. And the motive behind hate crimes is intimidation. The racist wants to intimidate not only the victim, but other members of the victim’s group. The crime is not committed against an individual, but against an entire community. The perpetrator wants all members of the target group to know that they’re not welcome, and that they’re not safe.

    This is why I support hate crime laws.

  • andy marsh

    boom..or may I call you Steve? I’d say this is a very well written response, I was looking forward to it after reading this thread yesterday. And starting it out by basically daring my ADD ass to stick to it and read it was good too!

    I applaud your honesty and openness.

    And I will say one more thing…many times when I read stuff around here I find myself saying BULLSHIT! out loud..people in the office look at me kinda funny…but hey, they do that anyway…three was no place in this rebuttal that I had to say that, so…fine work!

  • Claire

    Boom…first of all, thank you for such a well thought out, informative, and considered response. I appreciate it more than you know.

    The fact that anyone would hold your actions against you when you were a virtual child doing what you needed to do to survive should be shot.

    Yes, you are right. We DO legislate certain moralities. That involves actions, not thought.

    I AGREE with you that the government has no business in your business. What you or I or anyone chooses to do with their body is their own business. It is personal to you, and I personally think that prostitution should be legalised, regulated, which increases the safety factor for the participants…all of them…taxes can be collected on the income, and it would reduce the already bogged down efforts of law enforcement. That is action, not thought.

    AMEN on the marijuana. It should be legalized immediately and it would empty out 25 percent of our jails and prisons. It could be sold at starbucks for all I care. There is no (empirical) evidence that it causes any harm, certainly less than alcohol…But again, thats not legislating thought…but action…

    I am a firm believer in the right to die with dignity for anyone terminally ill, or in such constant pain with no quality of life that they no longer wish to exist that way. Again, an action…yes…a moral judgment by legislators…

    We DO legislate morality…and it is so haphazard that it is almost ludicrous. Same sex marriage should be legal…marijuana should be legal, right to die (narrow spectrum euthanasia) should be legal…pornography is and should be legal (except involving children)….

    I do disagree with your statement or query about september 11th.

    Your “read” of hate crime “laws” many of which are currently before the supreme court, are still hanging in the balance…

    You have stated your position beautifully, and I appreciate it…and don’t find much to disagree with you on your positions on the issues you raise…OR on hate crimes…my questions have been clearly addressed by you, and others….it is what I sought to do…get peoples reasons for why they should or should not be punished more severely.

    Best,
    Claire