Is differentiating some crimes as "hate crimes" really legally or socially useful?

I was reading the news stories below regarding the efforts by homeless advocates to get crimes against the homeless designated as “hate crimes”, and it occurred to me that the entire notion of making special categories of “hate crimes” (as distinct from regular crimes) might not be an especially useful thing to do. Why can’t these crimes (and race and sexual orientation based crimes) be regular “crime” punished to the full extent of the law? What is the main social and legal arguments for the utility of classifying these offensses “hate crimes”?

Has tagging some crimes as “hate crimes” actually worked to reduce those crimes?
Maryland Proposes to Protect Homeless Under Hate Crimes Law

Homeless hate-crime bill dies in Senate
Capital Notebook

Is Attacking A Homeless Person A Hate Crime?


Well, I prefer the term “senseless crimes”. Bank robbery isn’t senseless- that’s where the money is. Shooting a member of another gang in a gang war isn’t senseless. Both are certainly criminal, but banks should expect to be targets, and so should gangbangers.

Setting fire to a homeless man “just to see him burn”- that’s senseless.

So here’s how I figure it- those dude who commit senseless crimes of violence are sociopaths, and need to be put away forever.

However, if a man robs a bank just because he needs the money, perhaps teaching him a trade while in prison might rehabilitate him.

I agree in principle. A crime should be a crime regardless of who is the victim with some exceptions like crimes against children. There is no need to specifiy that torching an Eskimo’s house will get you 25 years while doing the same to the Johnson family down the street only gets you 10 to 20. Those types of laws can’t capture all the nuances between victims and they shouldn’t try anyway.

Beating an effiminate heterosexual should = beating a real homosexual.

Should we consider spray-painting a smiley face on a synagogue the same crime as spray-painting a swastika on one? One scenario is vandalism, the other is threatening. To the extent that they make this kind of distinction, I think “hate crimes” are socially useful.

Certain crimes are intended by the person who commits them to intimidate a whole group of people. Lynchings of blacks in the Jim Crow era, for example, were not just intended to kill the person they did- they were intended to intimidate all blacks into not doing whatever that person had supposedly done. The hate crime is intended to do more damage than what it does to the victim- it’s intended to intimidate other members of the victim’s perceived social group as well, and often hate crimes succeed at doing this.

The non-strawman rationale for hate-crimes (contrary the straw man version that conservatives get so worked up about) is that they are a form of terrorism. It isn’t enough to merely commit a crime against a minority. You have to demonstrate that by doing so, you either meant to send a message (like, gays aren’t welcome here: be gay, and you’ll get fucked up) or targeted them for abuse because of their status, which has the same result.

Why is this bad? Because it arguably inflicts MORE SOCIAL HARM than your average crime. Knowing that there are people out there targeting your race inflames racial tensions. History has shown that this is a bad thing: a REALLY bad thing, for society.

Now, I’m not entirely sure I still agree with the idea of hate crime legislation. But the point of it is not to “criminalize thought” or any other such nonsense. It’s to criminalize implied threats. Idealy, I would like to see legislation that just focused on that instead of this ridiculous system whereby we spend time including or excluding some class of people from the legislation. If someone is targeted to send a message to a wider auidence of a group or any other demonstrable class terrorism, it does more harm and its at least reasonable to argue for more punishment. Even if its a poor person targeting the rich or some other unforseen group target.

As far as being a social or legal tool, I think it’s failed. I very much doubt people are intimidated by the placement of certain crimes uner the header of “hate crimes.” Rather, they add legal weight to a pre-existing social more, but probably not in an important or significant way.

It’s useful in that it delineates what motives for violent crimes we as a national society find egregious. Motive always mitigates. A murder of a child is always seen as more heinous than the murder of an adult, and almost always recieves harsher sentencing. Some classes, we say, deserve protection.

Of course the way around that is to have local officials refuse to categorize something that was a blatant racial attack as a hate crime. It’s happened before.

I have a question that may help in determining if hate crimes are useful. Does even merely designating a crime a hate crime tend to increase success of successful prosecution, longer sentencing, longer times served? If so, I may argue that they are useful.

I tend to think that hate crime legislation is a bit redundant. I understand the rationale behind it, and with things like the intimidation by spraypainting a swastika on a synagogue I even see where it is useful to treat that as a different crime than simple vandalism.

I still don’t like the idea of hate crimes, because for so many of them it is a crime of intent, rather than any action taken. I’d rather amend the statutes against things like vandalism to include vandalism to intimidate as a higher order crime.

But if you do that, you’re still making it a crime of intent. You have vandalism, and then vandalism with the intent to intimidate.

I see the real problem as that hate crimes at the moment need to specify the subject of the hate. So homeless aren’t automatically protected because they aren’t yet mentioned in the crime laws.
Instead an activity that intentionally causes fear and intimidation to a person or group should be considered an agrivating condition on top of any other related crime.

So spray painting grafitti should be the crime of vandalism.
Spray painting a Swastikka, would be the crime of aggravated vandalism with a considerably higher penalty.

With this sort of definition, spray painting, “Die all homeless scum” near a homeless shelter would automatically be considered agrovated vandalism with no need to fine tune the law.

Flying a Nazi flag in your own home would not be a crime, as the underlying act of flying a flag is not a crime (state laws about flag flying otherwise having been taken into account).

I agree that intent is somewhat acceptable if all classes are acceptable targets of “hate crimes”. Just because white hetero males are rarely the targets of prejudicial crimes doesn’t mean it never happens.

Agreed. I don’t claim it’s a perfect solution.

Though, AIUI, a lot of intimidation tactics are nominally illegal, already. Even though most of said actions can be excused without the intent to intimidate.

But intent is a key factor in determining the punishment for most crimes. Accidentally shooting your hunting buddy is not treated the same as shooting the guy you find in bed with your wife, even though the actions may be the same.

Hate crimes are crimes that are intended not only to harm the victim but to intimidate a larger group that the victim is a part of. That’s why they’re worse.

It’s no different than having harsher punishments for shooting a policeman than for shooting a regular civilian. Shooting a policeman is an attack on civil authority as well as an attack on an individual. That’s why it deserves a harsher punishment.

Intent is considered in other crimes- intentionally killing someone is usually a far different crime than unintentionally killing someone. In some cases, the reason why the victim was killed can make a difference in what crime or what degree of crime the perpetrator can be charged with.

Okay. You’ve all got quite legitimate points. I yield.

I guess I’ll have to change my position to I’m not really comfortable with the legislation, but I see the point to it, after all.

Sorry OtakuLoki I hadn’t read your entire post before prattling off basicaly the same idea. My fault for skimming the posts.

That said, if instead of the intent to cause fear and intimidation being the determining value, but instead the measurement being was fear and intimidation caused by the act to reasonable members of the community. THis would also allow for the crime to be dependent on the current situation.
A single sprayed “Go home limeys” would probably not cause a problem, but if it started happening often, allong with increased violence agianst British ex-pats then a case where someone is caught spraying “Go home limeys” could be charged with the greater offence, whilst an issolated event of such type would simply be charged as grafitti.

Bippy, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I found your comments very germane and not redundant. You were looking at a different aspect than the one I’d focused on. Or at least articulated it more clearly.

Like any other legislation, hatecrime laws can be abused, and lawyers will look for loopholes. In other news, the Pope’s Catholic.

This doesn’t mean they’re not logical and necessary. As has been pointed out above, objecting to hate crime legislation as “thoughtcrime” legislation is ridiculous. To repeat another poster, the only difference between an accidental death and a murder is intent; juries deal with intent every day.

If the intent can be determined by a jury to be an implied threat to a class of people represented, in the perpetrator’s mind, by his victim, then that threat–i.e., terrorism–should be addressed by the criminal code.

As with any other crime of intent, if the jury doesn’t buy it, so be it. But to NOT have the crime of terrorism on the books because it’s “thoughtcrime” is to remove the power of a jury to address such crimes as what they are. With the crimes on the books, you put the power in the hands of the jury, which is where it should be.

(Sorry so fragmented; low blood sugar . . .)

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.