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The Definition Of Hate Crimes And Hate Crime Laws

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The use of hate and violence can often result in unfortunate events for those involved, leading to strong emotions, uncontrollable behavior, and other actions motivated by negativity. Hate speech can also lead to violent and criminal acts, as discussed by the following articles in this paper. However, the restrictions that are often imposed on hateful rhetoric or actions can walk a fine line between protecting individuals’ rights and protecting the free expression of thoughts and opinions. Understanding the fine differences that separate hateful actions against hate crimes are important to distinguish because this helps us formulate better policies that ultimately protect all existing constitutional rights, while also ensuring peace and safety in a society characterized by multicultural values and other important individual differences.

Hate crimes are not a serious problem

In his article for the New York Times in 1999, Andrew Sullivan makes a peculiar argument about hate, hate crimes, and society’s way of dealing with them. Sullivan begins his article by seemingly trying to comprehend what motivated some of the most gruesome, senseless, and brutal hate crime killings in recent US history. Sullivan concludes his introductory paragraph by stating that, “for all the society’s definitions of hate, people still do not really understand it and are thus unable to approach and resolve the problem of hate in a meaningful way.”

According to, the New York Times says, Sullivan (1999) argues that hate is far less of a clear concept than prejudice, bigotry, or bias. He questions whether hate is meant to stand in for all these concepts or represent a combination of them. Here, Sullivan makes the mistake of making a false dichotomy. He argues that, if hate encompasses everything mentioned above, then the fight against it is quixotic or meaningless. If, on the other hand, hate refers to a specific object, then fighting against it would be unconstitutional (Sullivan, 1999). There are a lot more ways to categorize hateful behavior and subsequently deal with it than Sullivan would have his readers believe.

Among other things, this means that hate has evolved and so should our understanding of it. Throughout his article, Sullivan argues that figuring out what is hateful and what is not was a lot easier in the “good old days” (1999). Because it is hard to determine the delicate boundaries between hate, prejudice, bias, and anger, Sullivan thinks people should just grow a thicker skin and embrace hateful and racist behavior as daily parts of their lives. I strongly disagree with this sentiment, especially now, when our society is divided than it has ever been before. Instead of giving any kind of hate a giveaway, as Sullivan would seemingly have us do, our legislators, media, and ordinary citizens should strive to mitigate it as much as possible, if not eradicate it altogether.

Hate crime laws are unnecessary

Throughout this article, Hate Crime Laws Are Unnecessary in 1999 taken from Robert H. Knight’s testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and is in relation to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999. Knight testified as a representative of The Family Research Council and argued against the said law on grounds that it would give too much power to the federal government and infringe upon the right of free speech. The law was meant to give the Federal Government greater power in fighting hate crime. As Knight saw it, the law created special classes of victims and provided them with a higher level of protection than those who did not fall under these specially created classes.

According to Knight (1999), seeing the law would compromise free speech and equate it with hate speech. Knight brings to mention the popular novel 1984 and the concept of “thought policing”. While the author brings some insightful points in their article, drawing this kind of comparison is patently absurd. Knight seems to be especially concerned with the “normalization” of homosexuality, as he returns to this issue several times throughout the article (1990). The law said, according to Knight, “would make it a federal offense to say anything negative about homosexuality” (1999). Indeed, Knight states that “homosexual activists have characterized even mild formulations of opposing views as a proximate cause of violence” (Knight, 1999). Having the mindset of how terribly homosexuality had been treated in the past, I really have no objection to laws that would provide extra protection for them. Knight also bashes NGO agencies that are dedicated to gathering statistics pertaining to violence against the homosexual population. In the article, Knight dismisses their data as inconsistent and plainly wrong. In the final analysis, Knight seems to be bothered by the fact that homosexuality had begun to enter the mainstream of American society. He seems to be bothered by this a lot more than the actual law he is testifying against.

The definition of hate crimes should not be expanded

As its title implies, the third article argues that the current legislature is more than enough to deal with all violent crimes, including hate crimes. The article The Definition of Hate Crimes Should Not Be Expanded was written by Fred Dickey and originally published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 2000. Like previous authors, Dickey also begins his article with an anecdote involving an angry white man who had been convicted of hate crimes against women. As it turns out, Billy McCall (who is the man in question), is an unstable individual who is prone to lash out and attack indiscriminately in his fits of rage. Dickey (2000) used McCall as an example of the relative inefficiency of hate crime statutes and uses his case to argue against expanding the legal definition of hate crimes.

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The core of Dickey’s article is the author’s claim that hate crime laws are a product of good intentions that ultimately do more harm than good. The author states that this kind of legislature is ostensibly aimed at punishing terrorists and high-profile hate crimes. Instead, the main offenders consist of poor and uneducated people who are more prone to “throwing punches than bombs” (Dickey, 2000). Basically, Dickey believes that the people who are most likely to be prosecuted for hate crimes will not even be aware that this kind of legislature exists. Furthermore, Dickey echoes Robert H. Knight’s statement about thought policing by claiming that prosecutors will go out of their way to link the offenders with racist beliefs and behavior.

While Dickey makes some solid points in his article, I am still left unconvinced that the US judiciary system should just ignore the fact that many of the violent crimes that happen are indeed motivated by hate towards “others”. Even though the expanded legislature may very well fail as a deterrent, it will still put the violent and hateful behind bars.

Alana Baranov’s (2016) view on hate crimes is that it starts with a spark and that it can grow out of proportion. Hate speeches do not only lambast one individual but the whole group that they represent, thus sparking an even bigger defense system that may involve violence. Baranov claims, that one should not stop the hate with hate (2016). It creates a cycle of vengeance and perpetuates hatred.

Thus, the Hate Crimes Working Group has stepped in to educate people about the dangers of provoking hate crimes by coming up with laws that make acts of hate unacceptable. These initiatives are meant to be carried out with awareness campaigns starting from influencing young people to learn from history’s lessons of hate’s repercussions on mankind in order to build a brighter and more love-filled future. Baranov reminded readers of the dehumanizing effects of the Holocaust and genocide. Her suggestion is to nip the suggestion of hate in the bud, meaning people should be vigilant in calling out anyone who makes a negative, prejudicial comment against someone. For some, it may start as a joke meant to offend someone as well as the group he or she represents. Baranov says this is also known as ‘identity crimes’ because it hurls pain and destruction at one’s identity (2016). She advocates respect and acceptance of diversity and does not tolerate slurs and racist remarks. People need to look beyond their differences and uphold each other’s dignity despite the negativity that may prevail around them. This can significantly help in healing from the wounds of the past and not further aggravate them by replenishing them with more pain due to hateful actions and words.

According to (Crime laws defined in Stop the Hate presentation Farmer, 2016) defined what hate crimes are, so that people may better understand hate crime laws. He differentiated hate crimes from bias incidents, with the former being crimes motivated by hatred towards a certain population, and the latter an act not involving a crime even if it is perceived as offensive. This distinction helps in evaluating acts of violence against others, whether through actions or words. Additionally, it assigns the appropriate fines and punishments, such as prison terms to each deemed as a hate crime. Hate crimes are those meant to hurt others because of their differences from the offender such as the victim’s gender orientation, disability, race, etc., and is mostly considered discrimination. Towards the end of the article, Farmer mentions the need to also check into bias incidents, as perhaps these could lead to hate crimes if not suspended from the onset (2016). The author encourages sessions discussing hate crime prevention so that more people can understand its devastating effects on the human spirit.

Hate crime laws

This last article from Issues and Controversies (2019) questions the effectiveness of Hate Crime Laws. Hate crimes in this article are defined as crimes motivated by the offender’s bias against the victim’s “race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity” (para. 1), which echoes the two other articles’ inferences that such crimes are very discriminatory and prejudicial. This article is lengthier than the other two, detailing findings of hate crime, such as the percentages allotted to categories of biases that motivated the crimes. As of 2017, it was found that the greatest motivator is racial discrimination, followed by religious differences and sexual orientation. Some hate crimes are motivated by the offenders’ biases against gender identity, gender, and disability. The rise in the prevalence of hate crimes has been attributed to the presidencies of Obama and Trump, and these are debated upon by their respective followers. However, the focus of the article was on hate crime laws such as the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) which was passed by Congress in 2009. Such laws advocate severe punishment for crimes motivated by discrimination against the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. However, there are also people who question it, because it penalizes the offender’s right to free thought and speech.

A thorough discussion of hate crimes that persisted throughout history was presented in this last article Issues and Controversies (2019) chronicling several events that raised much outrage on the trampling on the victims’ dignity. Such dehumanization has pushed authorities to protect the victims and sanction the perpetrators. Most of these crimes were caused by racial prejudice. Later, it spread to various other discrimination issues. Hate crime laws came to impose more severe punishments on the offenders, and those opposed to it defended their stand as a just exercising of their freedom of speech and thought as they voice out their negative opinions of people and issues. For them, being restrained from doing so may be considered a crime, violating the First Amendment of the United States Constitution encouraging the freedom of speech as well as the Fourteenth Amendment which advocates for equal protection of the laws.

Although hate crime laws have become a sanctuary to victims and the marginalized, offering them comfort and security, it continues to be controversial in the face of its opponents. Lawmakers continue to find the best measures to address hate crimes so that they are significantly lessened, if not eradicated, without sacrificing the right to free speech and thought. In all three articles, it is maintained that violence is not a solution and human dignity should always be upheld regardless of a person’s identity, culture, and orientation. That remains to be the most significant of human rights.

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