Hate crime laws and the illusion of justice
“Equal justice under law” is engraved above the front entrance of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. It is our American legal system’s ideal. Different people may understand it somewhat differently, but a simple, clear understanding is that it means genuine and unbiased justice. The synonym “fair” best defines its practice and outcome.
That leads us to consider how fair some laws are in the way they treat all people. However, there is a problem today with the word “equity,” which formerly conveyed “equality.” Today “equity” has been appropriated to mean “entitlement” to some as opposed to “equality” for all. Take, for example, the current term, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, better known as DEI and prominent today in many academic institutions. That usage of “equity” hardly relates to “equality,” as it excludes whites and particularly white males.
The most prominent laws missing the mark of “Equal justice under law” are hate crime laws. They are intended to heighten the consequences for crimes that have as a motive the victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, and gender/identity. However, this does not protect all Americans equally because the emotion of “hate” is subjective. Jurors who are personally unacquainted with defendants must judge their motives.
Unfortunately, we are quite poor at judging others’ motives, much less judging our own. When it comes to race, for instance, it’s easy to believe racial hatred is common to some races while dismissing racial hatred as common to others. The result is that the law is applied unequally, with racial minorities acquitted of hate crimes, even when it’s manifest, and non-minority races accused of hate crimes, even when hate’s absence is equally obvious. The same trait is involved in crimes based on the other specified hate crime categories.
In St. Louis, Missouri, where I live, violence and murder are common. In 2012, black teenagers murdered an elderly Vietnamese (i.e., Asian) man. In that same period, a black suspect murdered a convenience store clerk from Myanmar (again, Asian). Neither crime was classified as a “hate” crime. However, if white people had murdered Asians or blacks, it’s likely they would have been charged with a hate crime. We remember Jussie Smollett’s hoax attempt, which saw him claim that a white person attacked him for being both black and homosexual. Fortunately, police discovered the hoax. Indeed, police discover lots of racial hoaxes.
Muslim mosques and Jewish synagogues attacked are immediately considered hate crimes based on religion. Recently, a transexual person attacked a Christian school, murdering six people. Weren’t bias and hate possibly involved? No law enforcement agency or mainstream media outlet admits this possibility. Had there been six transexual victims, it would have been called a hate crime. Matthew Shepard, a homosexual murdered in Wyoming, is still considered a hate crime victim despite overwhelming evidence that a male lover killed him in a drug-related crime.
These are just a few of the many instances in which the determination about whether hate motivated a crime is determined by preferred victim categories. “Equal justice under law” is tragically abused in one way or the other.
Isn’t it time to recognize that hate crime laws contribute more inequality under the law than equality?
The Bible reminds us how to achieve impartiality, and it is not through hate crime laws. The fifth book of the Jewish Torah and Christian Old Testament, Devarim in Hebrew and Romanized Deuteronomy in English, recapitulates the Ten Commandments. In Chapter 16, Moses wrote: “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice, you shall not show partiality; and you shall not accept a bribe, because a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue….”
Hate crime laws “distort justice” by showing “partiality.” Outside of a prosecutor trying to augment his case by proving that the defendant had (in his own mind) a good reason to kill, judging motives is iffy and subjective. Deeds, however, can be objectively and equally judged. People who are murdered, regardless of why, are equally dead. People suffering lifelong harm are equal to all other victims. The remaining loved ones are equally aggrieved and robbed of their precious ones. Judgments and sentences should be equal for equal crimes.
It’s time to repeal hate crime laws to restore true justice and “Equal justice under law” to all. It’s an American ideal worth reestablishing and saving.