The threshold for what constitutes a hate crime continues to decline.
Have you ever used a racial slur?
You may have two answers to that question. There’s your initial, visceral, response: No! Of course not! Never!
But then there’s the response you’d give if you were being a little more honest: maybe… once or twice. So, if you have, does it make you a racist? In the court of liberal opinion at least, the answer seems to be yes.
In the Trayvon Martin case, in which neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman is accused in the shooting death of Martin, the liberal consensus seems to be that Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, acted out of racial hatred against Martin, who was black, and thus is guilty of a “hate crime.”
According to the FBI, “A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson or vandalism with an added element of bias.” Hate crime laws move beyond the criminalization of free speech to outlaw thoughts society deems unacceptable.
Establishing whether a criminal was motivated by bias or hate is nearly impossible because it’s nearly impossible to distinguish correlation from causation. Just because a criminal hates a particular group of people and commits a crime against a member of that group does not necessarily mean he was motivated by hatred when he committed the crime in question.
Of course, there’s little evidence that Zimmerman hates blacks. The only supporting evidence so far is a recording of the 9/11 call he made as he pursued Martin. In it, Zimmerman appears to say, “They always get away, f——ing coons.”
The word “coon” is undoubtedly racist and hateful. But there is doubt about what Zimmerman actually said. It could have been “goons” not “coons.”
Let’s assume Zimmerman committed a crime in shooting Martin, and that he used the word “coon” in reference to Martin. Does that make the shooting a hate crime?
Many on the left seem to think so, including the 21 Democrats who last week convened a Capitol Hill briefing on racial profiling and hate crimes. The Justice Department and FBI are investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.
But it’s nearly impossible to know whether Zimmerman acted out of racial hatred. His family and friends, some of whom are black, are adamant that he is not a racist. Zimmerman’s lawyer said that he had recently mentored a black boy, taking him to play basketball and participating in fundraisers at the boy’s church.
Sometimes people say racist things not because they are racists but because they want to say the most hurtful thing possible at a time when they are overcome by sudden and intense feelings of anger and frustration. It’s plausible that that’s what happened with Zimmerman.
The threshold for what constitutes a hate crime continues to decline. Last month a jury convicted Dharun Ravi of all 15 charges he faced for using a webcam to spy on his dorm roommate having sex with a man – a verdict, the New York Times reports, “poised to broaden the definition of hate crimes in an era when laws have not kept up with evolving technology.”
Ravi had set up a computer webcam, walked into a nearby friend’s room and viewed his roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing a man he met on a gay website. Ravi didn’t see any sex. But he sent Twitter and text messages urging others to watch when Clementi invited the man back two nights later.
Ravi didn’t follow through with his plan for a second viewing. But Clementi found out about the webcam and the twitter messages. He jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge three days later.
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