Hate is a strong word, it goes beyond mere distaste and disagreement.
The people who left death threats and scared Kathy Sierra out of a planned appearance didn’t just hate her. They had no reason to hate a person who writes a blog about computer interfaces. Their hate is for women, and their actions were driven by a hate for all women, and a desire to hurt all women.
The people who called a random pedestrian in Lawrence a “faggot,” jumped out of their car and beat him to the ground may not have hated him personally. If the police charge of a hate crime bears out, it will be because of hatred for gay men. When they beat that man, they were trying to beat all gay men, to hurt and scare any and all gay men.
When Don Imus called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos,” I’m sure he bore then no personal animus. His comments still expressed a general hatred for people with skin of a particular color.
Fred Phelps doesn’t protest at funerals because he objects to any particular soldier. He just hates, and wants attention.
It’s one thing to attack one person. The Rutgers players can defend themselves, they showed that on the court. The police can protect Kathy Sierra and the victim in Lawrence. Crimes that affect a single victim are different than crimes directed at a whole community through a single victim.
Lynching in America and pogroms in Europe were tools designed to repress minority groups. Those tools of hatred run deep in our culture and are hard to fight individually. The black women on the Rutgers team can defend themselves against Imus, but black women in general cannot. Kathy Sierra can put her life back together, but the how can we repair the damage done to female bloggers (and female techies) in general? How do we tell Lawrence’s gay community that they are safe? How can families mourn in peace with the Phelps clan shouting obscenities?
Don Imus is fired, and I can’t say I’m sorry. I never listened to him, but he has a history of these sorts of comments, and that isn’t appropriate, especially for someone who aspires to be taken seriously as a newsmaker. Kathy Sierra is working with people to promote a Blogger Code of Conduct, which will have no influence on anyone who doesn’t already want to behave well. Kansas and other states have required buffers around funerals to keep Phelps at a distance.
Congress is currently debating a modification of the federal hate crimes law which would include sexual orientation alongside race, religion, nationality and gender as protected categories. To me, this makes sense. A hate crime is a crime against a community. A beating motivated by bigotry and intended to harm an entire community is a different, much more serious, offense than a beating that originates in barroom beef. It is the difference between a murder and a pogrom.
The argument against hate crimes laws is that, as Rep. Todd Tiahrt puts it, “Hate-crime legislation would require the government to provide more punishment for a given violent crime or physical assault simply because the government decided that the motive for the crime was more heinous than another.” He regards the right to beat people because of the color of their skin, their sexual preference, or their gender as one of “our basic liberties.” J.D. has a less boorish take.
The problem is that some motives are more heinous, and we judge crimes differently based on motive all the time. Depending on your motive, after you run someone over with a car, you could get charged with anything from capital murder to negligent homicide. Capital murder requires intent and premeditation, negligent homicide requires that you fail to consider the harm that could result from your broken brakes.
Aggravated assault in Kansas is an assault committed “with intent to commit any felony” (or committed with a deadly weapon, or committed while trying to conceal your identity). Assault is a misdemeanor, aggravated assault is a felony. The difference lies in a judgment of motive and thought. I doubt Tiahrt, j.d. or other critics of hate crimes laws would object.
Given Tiahrt’s language concerns about “passing laws that infringe upon our basic liberties,” it’s hard not to think that there is some part of him that wants to distinguish between the right to act on intent to commit a felony (not protected) and the right to act on personal hatred (protected). I confess that I do not see it.
Of course we all have a right to our prejudices and beliefs. I have prejudice against Texas – some call it irrational, others thinks it makes sense. I have every right to that (irrational) distaste, but not to beat up Texans, or to wage a private war against the Lone Star state. As a wise man said, your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. Hate has to have limits also.