The value of Hate Crimes legislation is almost completely symbolic. Not, as Senfeld would say, that there’s anything wrong with that. Sometimes, there’s something to be said for symbolism. But as a practical matter, hate crime laws are usually useless.
At the time of the Matthew Shepard murder, I assumed (like everyone else) that Shepard WAS, in fact, brutally murdered because he was gay. And I stated on these boards that his killers deserved the death penalty. (And, indeed, they WOULD have gotten the death penalty, if Matthew Shepard’s family hadn’t asked the judge to be lenient.) But I made also made a post on these boards asking essentially this:
Humor me- suppose, just suppose, that the killers say, “Oh, he was gay? We didn’t even know that! We were just high on crack, and started talking about how it would be fun to kill the next random guy who came along. Shepard came by, and he looked like a little runt who wouldn’t put up much of a fight. So, we killed him”
What would your response be then? Would you say, “ooooohhhhh… well, that makes a world of difference. Torturing and killing a young man because he was gay is an unforgivable hate crime… but if you just did it out of sheer meanness or sadism, why, that’s not nearly so bad. We’ll give you anger management therapy, and let you go with probation.”
Of course not! Once the crime is as serious as torture and murder, one motive is no better or worse than another.
Interestingly, in the time since I made that post, the creeps who killed Matthew Shepard have changed their original story. They now say they didn’t kill Shepard because he was gay, but because they wanted money for crystal meth!
So, what say you now, Hate Crimes advocates? Do the killers deserve a reduced sentence?
Look, I have no idea what the truth is in this case. MAYBE they’re homophobes who’ve changed their story to make themselves look better in the media. OR maybe they were just stupid junkies who told a bullshit story about “gay panic” because they figured (wongly, it turns out), “Hey, this is Marlboro Country, man- if we say we killed him because he was a fag, no jury will convict us.” (They had no idea this would turn into a national story.)
But you know what? It doesn’t matter! Not a whit! WHATEVER their reasons were, they tortured and killed another human being, and they deserve the death penalty.
As others have observed, there MAY be some benefit to hate crimes legislation where minor offenses are concerned. Kids who throw eggs at random houses on Halloween are vandals and deserve punishment, but not as severe a punishment as adults who throw eggs at the house of the only black family in the neighborhood.
Some seemingly minor offenses MAY deserve severe punishment if we deem the moticvations heinous enough. But when the crime is as horrible as murder, screw hate crime legislation. A black guy who shoots a bank teller in the course of a robbery is no better than a Klansman who shoots a random black person for the hell of it.