Friday, May 4, 2007

House Passes Hate Crime Prevention Act

By a vote of 237 - 180 the House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.

The bill builds upon legislation from 1994 by expanding the categories of hate crime to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. It also allows federal law enforcement officials to assist state, local, or tribal law enforcement officials - at their request - in the investigation and/or prosecution of felonies, crimes of violence, and hate crimes.

There has been much misinformation regarding what the bill does, specifically relating to freedom of speech as protected by the first amendment. It seems that many fear that this bill makes derogatory comments, such as calling someone a "faggot" a hate crime. This is totally false.

Firstly, there must be a criminal action to begin with. The designation of "hate crime" does not come until after a crime has already been committed. Calling someone names, though cruel, is not a crime and has not been made criminal by this bill.

The definition of "hate crime" is as follows:

"`hate crime' means a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person."

Hateful speech is not a crime and is not made criminal by this definition, which is from 1994 by the way. (The current bill cites this definition. Sec. 2)

The bill further clarifies by describing two categories of "hate crime acts" in Section 249. Both categories explain that one must "willfully cause bodily injury" or "attempt to cause bodily injury" in the first place.

How does the prosecution know if the victim has been selected because of one of the characteristics in the above definition? Well, this is where the derogatory speech comes in, and it's best explained by example.

Joe has just committed a "crime of violence" against someone. However, the victim or other witness heard Joe using one of the above mentioned discriminatory slurs immediately before, during, or after the assault. If there is enough evidence (beyond a reasonable doubt, of course) that Joe's actions were motivated by hatred of one of the previously mentioned characteristics of the victim, he has committed a hate crime. The bill notes (Sec. 249 d) that any such evidence must "specifically relate to that offense;" which means that something Joe said 6 months ago, or even earlier that day cannot be submitted as evidence.

Furthermore, if you're still not convinced that the bill doesn't encroach upon free speech, they've included this little gem:
Section 8. Rule Of Construction. "Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution."


Many people are insisting that murder is murder, crime is crime and that it is ill-conceived to make a distinction for hate crimes. Here is a somewhat long rebuttal of this sentiment. These are two of the simplest, yet to-the-point explanations of why a distinction should be made:
"A hate crime IS different than a simple murder or assault as it incites fear into a specific community. If a group of KKK members came into your community and lynched an African-American man this would incite fear among African-Americans. Similarly, if a Neo-Nazi spray paints a swastika on a synagogue this would incite fear into the Jewish community. An essential part of our judicial system is to ensure public safety and maintain public order. A hate crime affects more than just the one person who gets physically harmed -- it provokes fear into an entire community. That is the difference."

"The only persuasive argument I've seen is given in the bill (Sec 2.2 and 2.5). Basically, if you attack someone because they belong to a specific group, you've also (negatively) affected that group. In any crime, those directly connected to the victim will be affected. If the crime is motivated due to hatred of a group, everyone in that group is affected, not just those with a direct connection to the victim. Since the effects are farther reaching, it makes sense to me that the crime would be considered more severe."


  1. Still have problem... I am a liberal and usually read thinkprogress but someone explain to me how "hate crimes" are not just a double crime. I understand the concept but that will just give a name to a group like the KKK and make it more popular. Everyone should be prosecuted equally. Just explain how one is not being tried, in essence, for the same crime twice?
    Wheather murder or murder with intent(when isnt murder without intent? even emotional rage is hate.) to use specificly defined hate.

  2. If I beat you up because I hate gays, but I don't say that, I get one penalty. If I beat you up because I hate gays and I say that, I get an additional penalty. Or if I don't hate gays, but we have a fight and I stupidly say something against gays during the fight because of I'm angry with you about something else entirely, I still will be charged with a hate crime. There are clearly free speech issues here. I'm being punished because of my words. Hate crime laws are a well-intentioned reponse to the sorry past when crimes motivated by bias were all too often ignored, especially crimes against blacks and gays. But that time is largely and gone, thanks to the hard work of a lot of wonderful activists, and hate crime laws are no longer needed.

  3. The idea is that it is a crime of intimidation against a group. It is not just the crime itself, it is what that crime does to members of that group. If someone beats a gay man to death, it causes fear and intimidation is others who are gay.

    Part of the reason the line gets blurred here is some of the people arguing against hate crime laws secretly cheer every time someone of a group they hate gets beaten or killed.

    Next time a Christian whines about the Hate Crimes law covering gays because it is a "chosen behaviour", offer to remove the part about protecting Christians from the same statute. (Christianty is even more a chosen behaviour.)

    Oh wait. It is only about them...

  4. "But that time is largely and gone...."? 'sounds like you need to get out of your bubble once in awhile. Start here:

  5. Vince: It isn't a double-crime because it is a category, not a charge in and of itself. 1st degree murder and 3rd degree man slaughter are, arguablly, the same thing. Both are about killing someone. The difference between them is the motives of the killer. We categorize crimes by type and severity based on the criminal's motives. We always have. This just examines the new (actually the old) motive of bigotry against the target's group.

    Annonymous #1: First of all, that is a complete misrepresentation. There is still a burden of proof to meet before it can be classified as a hate crime, and you and your lawyer could argue against it and present evidence.

    Second, please explain how, if you say that while attacking someone, it does *not* qualify as a "hate" crime within the real, technical definition of the term (not your strawman, the *real* definition).

    Third, if you honestly believe that bigotry and bias are not still ignored as the motive for crimes, then you have no understanding of modern society. vman's web link is a good place to start in getting a better look at the reality you live in.

  6. Hate crime legislation scares the willies out of me. I just can't see how this isn't creating a class of thought crimes, and the rebuttals don't offer any serious refutation of that.

    "The idea is that it is a crime of intimidation against a group. It is not just the crime itself, it is what that crime does to members of that group."

    But all violent crimes intimidate a larger social group. This isn't unique to the traditional targets of bigots. If someone goes around murdering people in my neighborhood, all of my neighbors will be severely intimidated. Hate crime legislation makes non-hate crimes a little less of a bad thing in comparison, when in reality they all are abominable.

    If the penalties for violent crimes are too low, then raise them across the board. The creation of a thought crime to add additional penalties is pointless, and smells very much like big brother to me.

    Color me unconvinced. And nervous.

  7. Annonymous #3: You could not be more wrong. *Not* all violent crime intimidates a larger social group. To say otherwise is flat-out false. And to claim that it somehow diminishes non-hate crimes makes no sense. That's like saying 1st degree murder diminishes other killings, so we should just have general homicide rather than crimes ranging from 1st degree murder down to 3rd degree man slaughter. The truth is that some crimes are qualitatively and quantitatively worse than others, and the criminal's motives are the main reason for that difference.

    The criminal's motives matter. That is a basic truth that our justice system has always recognized. You are trying to cordon off a particular motive and saying that it is somehow different and should not be considered. That is fallacious special-pleading.

  8. I'm still on the fence about this. I understand the motivations behind it and heartily approve them, but the idea makes me nervous as it seems it could just as easily apply to groups that are not oppressed. For example, if a black woman attacks a white man while he's attempting to rape her, and calls him every name she can think of, couldn't the man claim he'd been the victim of a hate crime?

    What the explanation that you quote seems to be claiming is that hate crimes are a form of terrorism--that they are *meant* to instill fear in a community. Again, to bring up another rape example, some years ago there was a huge wave of terror in my sleepy small town because a serial rapist was breaking into women's houses and raping them. If he had called them "whores" or other derogatory names while he'd done it, would he be committing a hate crime? He was obviously singling people out based on their gender.

    I think, at the very least, that the definition should be more narrowly defined. It also seems to me that a larger problem is that seeing that perpetrators of crimes against minorities are convicted in the first place.

  9. There are some very good points being made here, and I thank you for the healthy discussion. I believe this bill still has to go to the senate, so there's still time for amendments and such which will hopefully clarify and further define problem areas. Also keep in mind that Bush could always veto it...

  10. "For example, if a black woman attacks a white man while he's attempting to rape her, and calls him every name she can think of, couldn't the man claim he'd been the victim of a hate crime?"

    No, he couldn't. This law is very specific: hate or foul language or the like is not a crime in and of itself. Bigotry has to be the motive behind a real crime, such as assult or murder. Self-defense is not a crime, therefore your hypothetical white rapist could not claim to be the victim of a hate crime.

    As for your second rape example:

    "He was obviously singling people out based on their gender."

    Perhaps he was, but that is not the same as being motivated by hatred of women. Again, personal bias and bigotry has to be a motivating force for the crime before it can be called a hate crime.

  11. What you are failing to realize is that even though the law is only enforced after a crime has been committed it *is* criminalizing thought, not action.

    Murder is murder. Hate crime legislation attempts to make some murders 'worse' because the person who committed the murder thought "Oh, that's a black person, I sure hate black people, why don't I kill that black person" before killing them instead of "Oh, I hate people, why don't I kill that person". The only difference between the two crimes is thought and/or speech.

    *If* you want your argument that the crime terrifies a community then instead of making thoughts, opinions and speech illegal, you should simply make terrifying a community illegal. Otherwise it is like making it a crime to sell hamburgers because people are getting fat, people will eat other fatty foods anyway, all the legislation does is create crime where there isn't any.

    The only role of government is to protect individual freedoms, creating additional crime where no freedoms are being infringed upon does not serve that purpose, and therefore should not be a law.

  12. Re: Waresquirrel

    "You could not be more wrong. *Not* all violent crime intimidates a larger social group."

    What evidence do you have to claim such? The original claim that hate crime terrifies a social group is also not proven.

    "The criminal's motives matter. That is a basic truth that our justice system has always recognized. You are trying to cordon off a particular motive and saying that it is somehow different and should not be considered."

    Actually, no that is what people who *want* hate crime legislation are doing. Absolutely motive can be considered as evidence in a trial, what hate crime legislation does, is create an *additional* crime for certain motive, while making other motives more 'ok' in the eyes of the law. Hate crime legislation is wrong, misguided and unconstitutional.

  13. in this definition, everytime a woman is raped and it incites fear into all women, a hate crime is committed. you've just incited fear into the group. right? pointless.

  14. Wouldn't a serial killer killing people at random because he hates people incite even more fear than someone killing people because of race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. Because anyone can be a victim it provokes fear in a much larger social group than a single race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. It provokes fear in society as a whole. So based on the logic used to justify charging for hate crimes shouldn't that person be treated even more harshly than a person who committed a hate crime?

    Second point, the goal of punishment should be 1. incapacitation (person is removed from society to protect others) and 2. rehabilitation (make the person a better person so when they get out they are no longer a threat to society). Retribution, which seems to be the motive here is nothing more than revenge. Now if somebody shows me statistics showing that people who commit hate crimes are more likely to reoffend then I'll support longer sentences.

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  16. This legislation is an amendment to title 18USC 245. Posted below
    TITLE 18, U.S.C., SECTION 245
    (2) Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to limit the authority of Federal officers, or a Federal grand jury, to investigate possible violations of this section.
    (b)Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with--
    (1)any person because he is or has been, or in order to intimidate such person or any other person or any class of persons from--

    Title 18 USC deals with Federal Empoyees, notice "color of law" in the above section. The term "state" are federal possesions, not the states of the union.