Civil Liberties

How Many Times Will the House Boldly Condemn Hate Crimes?


In April the House voted overwhelmingly to dramatically expand the "hate crimes" covered by federal law. Yesterday, for obscure legislative reasons I will not pretend to understand, it did it again. The House, which approved similar legislation four other times in previous sessions without getting the Senate to go along, has now approved the bill as part of a conference report on the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate has not passed yet but is expected to approve soon. I must have missed something, because in April the bill was referred to the Senate, where I thought it was expected to pass on its own. The main change I've detected so far is that the bill is now officially called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, whereas before it was officially called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act but also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.

Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death in Wyoming, and James Byrd, a black man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Texas, were both murdered in 1998. In both cases, their killers seem to have been motivated by bigotry. What else do they have in common? Their murderers were arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison or death, all without the benefit of hate crime laws, state or federal. Hence it is very strange to slap their names on a piece of legislation that is based on the premise that such crimes might go unpunished without a federal law aimed at violent criminals motivated by bigotry. "The hate crimes act," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman  Carl Levin (D-Mich.), "will hopefully deter people from being targeted for violent attacks because of the color of their skin or their religion, their disability, their gender or their sexual orientation, regardless of where the crime takes place."

Deter people from being targeted? Talk about blaming the victim. What Levin presumably meant is no less ridiculous. Is it at all plausible that the men who murdered Matthew Shepard or James Byrd would have been deterred by the prospect of federal, as opposed to state, prosecution? How many lives can you serve in prison? How many times can you be executed? 

Of the categories Levin mentioned, disability, gender, and sexual orientation are new. So is gender identity, which he left out. Just as important as the new categories is the law's ridiculously elastic justification for federal involvement, which greatly expands the crimes that could be taken up by the Justice Department when it doesn't like the verdicts reached (or sentences imposed) by state courts.

State hate crime laws are bad enough, since they enhance penalties for crimes motivated by bigotry, thereby punishing people for their beliefs. A federal law likewise threatens freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom of association (though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claims that in the latest version of the bill "protections for freedom of speech and association" are "stronger"). It also authorizes double prosecutions for the same crime and usurps powers that the Constitution reserves to the states, as I noted the last time the bill was on the verge of passage.

More on hate crime laws here.

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  1. Oh, usurp, schmusurp. The fact is that the more remote and aloof the political entity, the more wonderful and justice-filled it is, Jacob. Even better would be to have the UN’s Human Rights Commission prosecuting these cases.

  2. I don’t understand the argument that hate crime enhancements are “thought crimes”. The motivations of why somebody committed a crime are frequently considered in the level of punishment dealt out. It’s not like they are making something illegal for somebody’s beliefs-they are merely making the punishment worse. It’s no different than, say, how premeditated murder for money is punished more severely than manslaughter during a heated argument.

    Nothing in these laws bans a bunch of people from getting together and hating gay people together, provided they don’t then go down to the local gay bar and shoot a few of them.

    1. You’re confusing motive with intent. Your motive for committing an act is not a factor in convicting you of a particuar crime; your intent in carrying out the act can make a huge difference – as in the difference between murder and manslaughter or negligent wounding versus attempted murder.

      Intent is not the same as motive.

      1. Regardless, I’m pretty sure it’s now a hate crime to criticize Mr. Obama.

  3. …but also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.

    I thought it was also known as the “Blacks and Gays Vote For Me Act.”

  4. The motivations of why somebody committed a crime are frequently considered in the level of punishment dealt out.

    I wouldn’t confuse the level of knowledge or intent with motivation, so it may not be all that frequent.

    Premeditated murder v. manslaughter has nothing to do with motive; it has to do with intent.

    Still, Geoptf, the proponent of a new law has the burden of defending it. If all you can say is that a new law doesn’t really change or do much, then that law shouldn’t be supported.

    1. Ok, the difference between first degree and second degree murder then.

      And I’m not saying it won’t do much (although Jacob Sullum is). I’m saying that the fact that it makes some sorts of crimes have increased punishment due to the motivation and reason the crime was committed is nothing new or special, and absolutely does not “threatens freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom of association”.

      1. It’s redundant. Whether it’s “I killed him because he was gay,” or “I killed him because I wanted his money,” or “I killed him because I didn’t like the way he looked at me,” either way, you killed him. Murder is murder, regardless of your motive. You intended to kill; that has been a crime since time immemorial.

      2. If the punishment for murder is the death penalty, how can the penalty for “hate crime” murder be increased? You think maybe the perpetrator ought to be tortured or something?

        1. Maybe we’ll bring back drawing and quartering?

  5. This is why a sunset provision on laws would be great for Congress. They could pat their backs and pad their resumes voting on the same bull over and over again.

  6. Remember the good old States Rights days when down in the deep South the great mystery was how so may Negroes could hang themselves with their hands tied behind their backs? Yeah, leave it to the states.

    1. Edward, kill yourself.

      1. Do you really think that’s a witty retort?

        1. Shut the fuck up, Edward.

          1. Shouldn’t you be out cruising playgrounds somewhere, Edward?

  7. Can anyone explain what part of the United States Constitution grants Congress the power to ban hate crimes?

    1. The general welfare clause. I’m sure it’s in there.

  8. Edward, you are profoundly retarded. Profoundly.

  9. Do you really think that’s a witty retort?

    Do you really expect to be treated like you’re actually contributing to the discussion? Fuck off.

  10. Jacob Sullum writes as if he has never been beaten within an inch of his life for simply existing.

    1. I write only to say that is a different Bill. Mebbe I need to modify my screen name to something more unique, like Bryvzp@#q.

  11. So Bill, someone who is beaten to within an inch of their life so the perp can take their wallet is automatically less beaten than someone who is beaten to within an inch of their life because they are gay/black/etc? Last time i checked, assault and battery was a crime no matter WHO it got committed on.

    1. Yes, and I would also bet that the victim doesn’t particularly give a shit why he is beaten to within an inch of his life either. Is he supposed to feel better if it wasn’t because of his race, gender, sexual preference, etc.?

  12. Hence it is very strange to slap their names on a piece of legislation that is based on the premise that such crimes might go unpunished without a federal law aimed at violent criminals motivated by bigotry.

    I hear-tell our President got a peace prize ’cause according to the Nobel committee, he makes people feel ‘hopey’. So this is in direct line with everything that’s going on.

    1. Hopey? Yeah, he makes me feel hopey – I hope he isn’t re-elected.

    2. I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole….

  13. Intent is about whether a defendant meant to do what he did. In murder, that can mean more than “Did he intend to kill?”, but the basic issue is whether his mental state was such as to make him criminally liable for the crime.

    What hate crimes are most analogous to are enhanced penalties. For instance, beating up a cop might get you a stronger punishment than if you just beat up a 20-year old guy. However, there are supposed to be really compelling reasons for providing this extra protection, and, to be honest, those aggravating factors based on the class of the victim have never made much sense, except in a few rare cases, like with kids. The idea there is that you’re committing violence against someone who can’t defend himself.

    With hate crimes, all of this gets very subjective. Did you attack someone because he was in a minority? In your anger, did you use a racial or other identity-based epithet? Etc. I’m not even addressing the fact that this means that some people are more equal than others solely due to the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. ‘Cause, you know, it’s worse if a guy gets killed for being gay than for not having enough money. It also totally discounts other “hateful” reasons someone might be attacked.

    1. In your anger, did you use a racial or other identity-based epithet?

      I can see this being a big problem when paired up with an overzealous prosecutor (is there any other kind?). Any kind of fight between people of 2 different races is going to be open to this angle, and how can someone prove they’re not racist?

      Aside from voting democrat, of course. *ba-dum-bum*

  14. Can anyone explain what part of the United States Constitution grants Congress the power to ban hate crimes?

    What is this Constitution of which you speak?

  15. I wonder if the sponsors of this bill would vote for an amendment adding “political beliefs” to the list of protected persons or beliefs?

  16. As a gay man, I wish that Congress would actually do something meaningful for me instead of stupid pointless gestures. We have the HRC to thank for that, of course. Bunch of cowards.

    1. what, exactly, is it that you think the Congress should do “for you”?

      1. For me, it would be great if about 65% of them would fuck off and die.

        1. Can we then close off their seats to new entrants?

          1. He said “close off their seats.”


        2. make it 100% and we may talk

      2. Don’t be so reactionary, TAO. For instance, Congress could come up with a document that guaranteed rights. You know, right to say stuff without government interference, right to own a gun, right to be free from searches and state intrusion into our personal lives. They could throw in some tacit right to private property. Maybe limit the powers of government somewhere in it. That’s “do a lot” for me.

      3. How about instead of permanently enshrining homosexuals as a victim class (look what that’s done for the African American community!) Congress repeals DADT and DOMA? I want to be treated equally, not as a special class.

        1. Hear, hear.

      4. Let him serve in the military without getting kicked out for doing what every heterosexual is allowed to do (show basic love and affection toward another intimate). Other than that, eh.

      5. You’re right. It should own up to its useless existence and only work against us, just to prove libertarians right.

  17. Aaron, like national CCW reciprocity?

  18. “Aren’t all crimes hate crimes?”
    — (Then) NM Gov. Gary Johnson.

    I miss that guy.

    .. Hobbit

  19. I’m glad that Joseph Gardner was finally put to death in 2008 for the racially-motivated murder of Melissa Mclaughlin in 1992, without the benefit of hate crimes laws. It amazes me how sedate, and minimal, was the language in the Charleston Post and Courier regarding the motivation of the 5 black men who viciously raped, tortured, and murdered her to avenge “400 years” of black oppression by whites in America.

    The case, which involved a white victim and five black suspects, stoked fears of racial unrest. The killing occurred just months after the Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of four white police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King. Adding to local fears were revelations from investigators that Gardner and his co-defendants had decided to kill a white woman to avenge the mistreatment of blacks during slavery.

    Really, this particular account of his execution and her murder is nearly drama free. It also neglects to mention details of how they scrubbed her with a brush, including her vagina, and forced her to wash with bleach and peroxide to destroy evidence before they shot her 5 times and threw her into the woods on the side of a road.

    Gardner seems kind of convincing when he says that accepts responsibility and is sorrowful for the horrific crime. I wonder if he was.…..uted64233/

    1. I wonder if he was.

      I don’t care if he was. I’m just glad that he is dead. Hope the others get the same.

      1. It was little more than some casual musing…

        1. Yes, I gathered that. 🙂

    2. …without the benefit of hate crimes laws.

      Almost no one except white people are ever charged or convicted under “hate crime” laws.

      1. I’ve read about a case or two. At least one was in the UK. Don’t recall the details.

        I do think that if particularly lurid, gruesome, and heinous crimes motivated by “hatred” of an entire category of people are going to be a national obsession, Melissa McLaughlin should be as well known as Matthew Shepard and James Byrd. But mostly it’s just South Carolinians and avid viewers of America’s Most Wanted who are familiar with the case.

        1. In today’s cultural and political climate publicizing the particular crime you allude to would probably be considered racist. One would be accused of drawing attention to it for the purpose of smearing the perpetrators’ race.

      2. From to the FBI’s report on hate crimes in 2006– Offenders: Of the 7,330 known offenders, 58.6 percent were white and 20.6 percent were black.

        So if “almost no one” means “nearly half,” you are enitrely correct.

    3. White girls don’t fall under the Hate Crimes Act, but they do fall under the Media Profits from their Death and Subsequent Death-Pimping Act.

  20. You have to keep those gay people happy. Otherwise you might end up the victim of a gay drive by. You know, when a pink Mini Cooper pulls up, the window rolls down, skittles come flying out the window, and someone yells, “TASTE THE RAINBOW BITCHES!!!”

    Either that or you loose the voting block for not making showy platitudes.

    1. Great, now I’ve got to wipe my monitor again 🙂

  21. Why fight the tide for increasing the scope of crimes labeled “hate crimes”? Why not help expand it until every crime is a “hate crime” of one sort or another?

    Then we could make the case that federal involvement isn’t necessary, since all crimes are hate crimes, and the Constitution already defines which crimes the federal government has jurisdiction over: piracy, treason, and counterfeiting. And isn’t it past time that they started enforcing that last one?

  22. I don’t understand all this law-talkin’, but it sounds like my Cripple-Fag Catfight DVDs are about to become collector’s items. Sweet.

  23. We hates it, we hates it, we hates it FOREVER!!

  24. This is kind of a guess but perhaps part of the logic behind hate crimes laws is that crimes against certain people aren’t prosecuted with the same zeal as others. Is it at all unlikely that a judge or a prosecutor might think the victim “deserved it” and go for more lenient treatment?

    1. Not in my court.

  25. So this means that if a man is brutally murdered because, let’s say, his business partner wants to take over the whole business and to bang his wife….that murder ain’t all that bad compared with somebody who shoots a gay guy.


    “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal….

    “Wait….scratch that last. Government-sanctioned ‘minorities’ are better than everybody else.”

    But Mr. Sullum made the key point when he said that murder is already illegal. It’s totally redundant (not to mention it’s prosecuting something that’s effectively un-provable: what deep prejudices somebody might or might not hold.)

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  27. It would be nice if the cases they use as poster children for this legislation showed that current law wa inadequate rather than being ones that were sensationalized for political purposes.

  28. Bad things are wrong, and vice versa.

  29. Had to stop by to point out that the motive behind Matthew Shepard’s murder was eventually exposed at simple robbery by a couple drunk rednecks, one of who was apparently bisexual, according to the testimony by one of his boyfriends.

    (Former Laramie, Wyoming resident. Still a shock that it happened there, though the killers went to HS with my wife and were trailer trash dropout meth-heads.)

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