We all remember the tragic killing of a young gay man in Wyoming. It was brutal, senseless and offended our sense of human dignity. However, it was also predictable this hideous act would spark cries for enactment of so-called "hate crimes" legislation in Nevada.
Proposals for such legislation would implement an additional penalty for crimes that seem motivated by intolerance towards protected groups.
My concern with this type of legislation is the absurdity of distinguishing "hate crimes" from other crimes. Should we classify all other criminal acts as "love crimes?"
If I were to have my family brutally murdered for plain old-fashioned reasons like money or sadism, should their deaths be somehow less morally grave than a murder motivated by intolerance of homosexuals, ethnicity, or some other politically incorrect sentiment? This is the unavoidable logic of hate crimes legislation. For the record, I am opposed to all forms of protected status classifications. I am also opposed to those laws that enhance penalties for the killing of a police officer or politician or for threatening a state employee. The protected status that should be allowed should be conferred upon children.
The underlying premise and assumption of "hate crimes" legislation is the absurd notion there are crimes more serious than murder or the taking of human life. To me, this assumption is reflective of contemporary liberal thought. For a liberal to get upset about an offense it must go beyond mere murder and rise to the level of "intolerance," however slight!
The traditional approach to crime and punishment, from the beginning of our Republic through the 20th century, was that crime is a moral transgression and that punishment should reflect the moral gravity of offenses. Deterrence, incapacitation, and even some modes of reform were regarded as important aims of criminal law. Crime was regarded as a violation of the natural rights to life, liberty and property; these rights being the sacred responsibility of the government to protect.
In the '60s, the liberal elite began to question the idea of crime as a moral transgression. Liberals argued that criminals were not morally responsible for their crimes. Society was said to be at fault. Criminal behavior it was argued was caused through adverse social and economic conditions. So began the mantra of "poverty is the cause of crime" and the use of class warfare as a tactic of the Left. Society began to look less at the moral culpability of individuals for their actions and looked instead to the "conditions" that led to the offense. In this way, real crime was excused if it was seen as a reaction to poverty or racial prejudice.
"Hate crimes" legislation is reflective of this absurd notion that the criminal law should not be directed toward a common moral good, but instead to the current political "le dernier cri." In the '60s, the trend was more explicitly class-based, so crime motivated by greed was seen as particularly egregious. In the '90s, given our politics of "tolerance" where the most serious offense involves making moral distinctions between various "lifestyles" and different cultures, crimes motivated by animus toward gays or minorities must be considered the most hateful of all.
Accordingly, we see that the killing of a gay or of a minority being considered worse than other kinds of murder, yet beating another human being unconscious with a brick and dancing with glee about it, as several Los Angeles rioters did live on television a few years ago, is hardly considered a crime at all since it was motivated by rage over the "racist" Rodney King trial verdict.
The growing call for "hate crimes" legislation shows how our politics and our legal system have become dominated and influenced by pop culture therapists, social workers, Oprah Winfrey-type talk shows and "feel good" legislation, seeking to criminalize all feelings, thoughts, or attitudes that run contrary to the current hypersensitivities of the day.
This is precisely the influence in lawmaking that the Founding Fathers sought to prevent. They set up a system (now much eroded) in which the short-term passions of the public would be unable to govern; instead, reason (a quality the American people have never properly developed) considered and calm, would prevail. The call for hate crimes legislation also runs contrary to the principles of the Constitution, in that it contributed to the disturbing tendency to federalize all crime.
In the last decade, both political parties have been guilty of promoting an unconscionable array of federal criminal statutes in response to crime problems that are more properly handled at the state level. The 10th Amendment has lost its meaning and is now a bastard child of the Bill of Rights.
The hideous crime perpetrated against the young gay man from Wyoming was a brutal murder, entirely deserving of our outrage and of prosecution to the fullest extent of Wyoming state law. Such should be the warranted reaction to any murder that occurs in our midst. Yet, we are not likely to see similar reactions to "ordinary" murders by many of those now clamoring for hate crimes legislation.
On the contrary, the liberals who currently demand hate crimes legislation are the same people who consistently oppose vigorous prosecution and longer sentences for the perpetrators of (should I call it nonhateful?) murder. If they truly are opposed to hateful crimes, one can only hope that the advocates of hate crimes legislation will abandon their folk song singing candlelight vigils for mass murderers and join in the call for just punishment for all crime against all people.
Karl Neathammer is a Carson City resident, former lay judge and ran unsuccessfully for the Nevada Assembly in District 40.