Michael McGough of the Los Angeles Times offered some clearheaded thinking about so called "hate crimes" in his column yesterday. McGough wrote in the wake of the tragic killings allegedly perpetrated in Kansas City by Frazier Glenn Cross, an elderly Nazi sympathizer and contributor to the macbre mystique around creeps with three names. Cross will likely be prosecuted under hate crime legislation. His victims were not Jewish, but presumably he thought they were, as his targets were Jewish community centers. And so McGough made this provocative and rightheaded statement: "[T]hese killings are a reminder of the perplexities that surround hate-crime laws. No one would suggest that the loss of these lives would be any less horrible if the gunman had chosen his victims at random and without regard to their (assumed) religion."
Indeed, no one would. So why do our laws, which are supposedly geared towards the equal protection of all, make it super duper extra illegal to attack certain classes of people? McGough places his finger on the reason. Treating instances of bias crime differently aims at discouraging hateful ideologies. But hateful ideologies enjoy first amendment protection, whereas violent crimes do not. And we don't prosecute thought crimes in this country--at least not formally.
I also share the sinking suspicion of many that "hate crimes" are unevenly prosecuted along racial lines. Take the example of Conrad Barrett, the man who finally proved the existence of the knockout game. For months, sensational reports floated around about teens indiscriminately attacking people for sport. The awkward truth was that while the victims were racially mixed, the alleged perpetrators were almost exclusively African American. And so black community leaders dismissed the attacks as a myth. Liberal media outlets dutifully toed the line, to the extent that they covered the knockout game at all. And then Barrett came along. He was a sicko just the same as the other knockout game perpetrators, but a sicko of a different color. A white man, he reportedly videotaped himself asking "If I were to hit a black person, would this be nationally televised?" The great irony was that Barrett was correct in his commentary that the media was not covering the knockout game honestly. And were any of the perpetrators pursued via hate crime statutes? You guessed it. None until Barrett.
At least one perpetrator of a recent mob attack on a white truck driver is being charged with a hate crime, but this is the exception that proves the rule. And quite frankly, this particular crime just illustrates the truth that all crimes come from a place of hate, whether racial animus is involved or not. McGough closes his column with the following:
[T]he designation of some groups as protected classes in hate-crime laws creates a political demand by others that they also be included. Some laws define hate crimes to include attacks inspired not only by racial or religious bias but also by antipathy to veterans, disabled people, sexual minorities and the elderly. As the list of protected groups gets longer and longer, the law may be approaching a situation in which every crime is a hate crime.
McGough is correct in his intimation that hate crime legislation is really about the enshrinement of identity politics and victimhood. We must all genuflect at the altar of race, class, and gender, after all. But he is wrong when he says we might be approaching a situation in which every crime is a hate crime. That is already the case. Unless, that is, there are such things as love crimes.
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