House votes to expand hate crime law; a bit of ambivalence…
I have to admit to a bit of conflict here:
Bush threatens to veto expansion of hate-crime law
— The long-debated bill would expand the federal law to include violent acts motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation, gender or disability.
WASHINGTON — The House, defying a fresh veto threat, passed legislation today to expand the federal hate-crime law to include violent acts motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation, gender or disability.
The 237-180 vote came hours after President Bush threatened to veto the bill, which would mark the first major expansion of the hate-crime law since it was passed in 1968 with Republican support. The Senate is expected to follow suit soon. (Story.)
At a glance this one might seem like a no-brainer. Ours is a society where way too much of what goes on is driven by hate, ignorance and outright stupidity, and it ought not be tolerated. Adding sexual orientation to the list of reasons why we shouldn’t inflict harm on our fellow humans – well, duh.
But the truth is that I’ve never been quite able to square my feelings on hate crime legislation generally. Mainly, my approach to crime and punishment doesn’t much care whether you stomped a guy to death because he was gay (or black or Muslim or a Republican or whatever). It cares that you stomped a guy to death and the appropriate penalty for that ought to be such that motive is irrelevant. Call me a law and order progressive if you like – my views on how we should deal with certain categories of criminal (rapists, child molesters, etc.) are way past “conservative” and deep into “Byzantine.” I believe the solutions to our society’s crime problems require strong education and economic development programs to remove the underlying causes of so much crime, and in the meantime, I believe that carrot should be accompanied by a very, very large stick.
Why should a thug who murders me, a straight white guy, for what’s in my wallet do less time than if he murdered another man for kissing his boyfriend in public? From where I sit, both crimes deserve the max. Period. If that’s life, then lock ’em up. If it’s death, go crank up ol’ Sparky.
I’m not willing to go to war over this one because, in truth, I absolutely understand the desire to send a message – a strong one – to those who think what happened to Matthew Shepard was okay. I positively, 100% get that and couldn’t be more on the train if I were wearing the conductor’s cap. Nonetheless, there’s a part of me that sees the very conversation as proof that we’re not acting strongly enough against crime generally. If we need more punishment for this, and if we believe all people should be equal under the law, isn’t the de facto implication that we aren’t doing enough about that?
And doesn’t this amount to a noble, well-intentioned ghettoization of certain classes of people?
Yeah, I’m opening myself up to it here, and feel free to convince me that I shouldn’t be feeling the ambivalence that I am. Like I say, this isn’t one that has me outraged, exactly. But I feel like so long as we have laws that draw these kinds of distinctions we’re slapping bandaids on sucking chest wounds.
Matthew Shepard is dead, and his killers deserved the worst we could do to them. In my mind, they deserve the worst whether their motives were robbery or homophobia.
When all is said and done, doesn’t this law really say that there are some reasons for cold-blooded murder that aren’t as bad as others?
:xposted Lullaby Pit: