Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review May 17, 2007 / 29 Iyar 5767

With justice for some

By Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
Printer Friendly Version
Email this article


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | By a vote of 237 to 180, the House of Representatives voted on May 3 to broaden the federal hate-crime law, extending it to violent attacks based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. During the emotional debate on the bill, majority leader Steny Hoyer offered the familiar argument that crimes motivated by hatred are worse than other violent crimes and therefore deserve harsher punishment.


"Some people ask: Why is this legislation even necessary?" said Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat. "Because brutal hate crimes motivated by race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and identity, or disability not only injure individual victims, but also terrorize entire segments of our population and tear at our nation's social fabric."


When they introduced similar legislation in the Senate two years ago, Senators Ted Kennedy and Gordon Smith made a related argument: "Hate crimes . . . send the poisonous message that some Americans deserve to be assaulted or even murdered solely because of who they are. . . . These are crimes against entire communities."


But is a fixation with "hate" the right way to punish crime?


Two days after the House vote, as if to drive home the brutal reality of hate crimes, the Associated Press reported on a recent surge in violent, sometimes lethal, attacks by young thugs against members of an exposed and vulnerable minority group. Among the incidents described were the fatal bludgeoning of August Felix by three teenagers in Orlando last year; the bloody assault by punks with baseball bats on 58-year-old Jacques Pierre in Fort Lauderdale; the murder in Spokane of a one-legged man who was burned to death in his wheelchair; and the drowning of a woman in Nashville by two men who shoved her off a boat ramp into the Cumberland River.


The sickening attacks recounted by the AP undoubtedly have the capacity to "terrorize entire segments of our population," as Hoyer puts it. The victims in these cases, to use Kennedy and Smith's formulation, were "assaulted or even murdered solely because of who they [were]."


Yet the hate-crime bill making its way through Congress wouldn't have done a thing about these attacks. In the four cases above, as in scores like them around the country every year, the victims were homeless people — and not even the most horrific assaults on the homeless are covered by federal hate-crime legislation.


To be sure, it doesn't take a federal law to make it a crime to beat a homeless man to death with baseball bats. But that's true of every violent crime, including the ones that would be covered by the bill in Congress. So why should "hate crimes" motivated by racial, religious, or sexual bigotry be punished more severely than equally hateful crimes motivated by contempt for the homeless? If vicious hoodlums murder a man by setting him on fire in his wheelchair, what moral difference does it make whether they despised him for being disabled (covered by the new bill) or for being a street person (not covered)? Is it worse to douse a man with gasoline and strike a match while shouting, "We hate cripples!" than to do the exact same thing while shouting "We hate the homeless" — or, for that matter, "We hate skinheads" or "We hate Communists" or even "We hate Yankees fans"?


It is indecent for the government to declare that a murder or mugging or rape is somehow more terrible when the murderer or mugger or rapist is motivated by bigotry against certain favored groups. The inescapable implication is that murders, muggings, and rapes committed against other groups are less terrible. In a society dedicated to the ideal of "equal justice under law" — the words are chiseled above the entrance to the Supreme Court — it is immoral and grotesque to enact legal rules that make some victims of hatred are more equal than others.


In fact, the law has no business intensifying the punishment for violent crimes motivated by bigotry at all. Murderers should be prosecuted and punished with equal vehemence no matter why they murder — whether out of hatred or sadistic thrill-seeking or revenge or the promise of money. It is not the criminal's evil thoughts that society has a right to punish, but his evil deeds.


There are a host of other problems with the bill passed by the House — it is of dubious constitutionality, it federalizes prosecutions that belong at the state level, and any act it would apply to is already illegal. But its most grievous failing is the one it shares with all hate-crime laws: By turning the criminal code into an affirmative-action schedule, they undermine social justice. They treat equal victims unequally. And they give too much weight to the beliefs of an attacker — and too little to the brutality of his attack.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

Jeff Jacoby Archives

© 2006, Boston Globe

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles