Hate crimes legislation was enacted in recognition that crimes directed because of race, ethnic or sexual orientation damaged not only the individual victim but the community of the victim. Expression of racism or bigotry in art or in the media is not a hate crime; it is not a crime forbidding certain thoughts as many critics of the legislation claim.
But there seems to be a problem enforcing the legislation. In Louisiana white students hung three nooses on a tree, seemingly to intimidate a black student. That is not a hate crime, just a grossly distasteful expression. Six black males harshly assault a white male in response and this may not be a hate crime.
In West Virginia six white males kidnapped, tortured and sexually assaulted a black woman and this may not be a hate crime because she had a relationship with one of the assailants.
And even worse in Knoxville when a young white couple, Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, are tortured, raped and murdered by three black men and a black woman it is not conisdered a hate crime but a “carjacking gone bad”.
All of these cases bring questions to the value of hate crime legislation. If these cases do not attract a hate crime status then what does? If hate as a motivating factor is so hard to prove then what good is it? In the serious capital crimes like murder, what good is a “hate crime” designation? When you fry them are you gonna use additional voltage?
In cases such as in West Virginia and Knoxville the prosecutors are going to find the combination of charges that will yield the maximum penalty. A hate crime ‘additional’ penalty will have little impact, so it will not be worth pursuing.
A hate crime designation will only increase the penalty in a smaller crime such as assault or vandalism.
So if I hit a guy in the face it is an assault. If I announce I am going to “find a dirty Jew (fag, wet back or whatever) ” and hit him in the face and then do so then it is a hate crime. If I get six months for the first assault then the application of a hate crime may add a year to the sentence.
I question whether such a system that makes the same act receive a higher punishment if it is deemed a hate crime also debases the value of the victim of the assault without the hate attachment. A violent assault is a crime worthy of severe punishment because we want to strongly discourage violence in all of its forms. What good is served by altering sentences based on what motivated the act?
This is not the first law that found its application miss the purpose that was intended. But if hate crime legislation is perceived to be discriminatory in its application, then it will exacerbate the very racial tensions that its proponents wish to discourage.