Hate Crimes or Thought Crimes?

May 4, 2009 at 3:35 AM (Uncategorized)

I was reading some right wing extremist propaganda web site earlier. I googled for the name after watching an old West Wing episode on DVD and found that site.

I read an article where they were railing against the hate crimes bill that just cleared the US House of Reps. At least, I tried to read it but couldn’t get through it without laughing. They seem to be under the impression that it promoted “bizarre sexual orientations”.

I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of hate crimes laws, but not for the same reason as these right wing loons. My gut reaction on hate crimes laws is that they are far more dangerous than they are helpful.

If a white man kills a black man and he did it for no reason other than he just can’t stand black people, then we should send him to prison for murder and I don’t think anyone but his lawyer and his mother would object to that.

What I don’t think we should do is to tack on an extra ten years to his prison term because his crime was motivated by bigotry. Why does the reason he did it matter? He did it, it was illegal and he’s going to jail for it. To me, to charge him with an additional crime for the same act of murder violates the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. He is being punished twice for the same crime.

Worse than that though is that we’re making it illegal to hold certain thoughts in our heads. Right now, it’s limited to things that nobody likes. Things that most people agree are bad and that we’d be better off if nobody thought that way.

Certainly it would be nice if we could make a law that says bigotry is illegal and that puts an end to it forever. I’d also like to have half a dozen Ferraris and to have a sleazy love affair with Melissa Theuriau. One is just as likely to happen as the other.

The fact that unpopular thoughts can be made illegal scares the hell out of me. Right now, it is illegal to have bigoted thoughts. What will it be illegal to think about tomorrow?

The police can seize every piece of property you own based on less evidence than would be needed to convince a judge to sign a search warrant. You don’t even need to be charged with committing any crimes. This is due to a law that originally was only supposed to be used against mobsters and drug dealers.

Rent-a-cops at the airport can snatch your laptop out of your hand and rifle through your personal files. This is because someone thinks they might catch a terrorist or a pedophile that way.

It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned a law might be. When it leaves opens even the tiniest crack in the door to our constitutional rights, someone whose intentions are not so honorable will one day step through it. It always happens. Always.

So let’s just leave that door locked. When a white man murders a black man because he hates black people, let’s send him to prison for murder, not for thought crime.

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