Intent vs. Motivation


John Schwenkler argues against hate crime laws:

True, attacking someone as a means to coerce or intimidate or – perhaps – harass or provoke is reasonably regarded as a more serious crime than “mere” random assault, and it doesn’t seem inappropriate to include within the law a category that defines it as such; we do just this sort of thing, after all, in differentiating murder from manslaughter. But obviously it shouldn’t matter at all whether such a behavior was gone in for as a consequence of hatred for some vulnerable group rather than, say, some other sociopathic tendency or perhaps the desire to draw attention to some political cause.

Hate crime laws have got, in other words, everything to do with “motivation” rather than “intent”...

Exactly. The real reason for hate crime laws is not the defense of human beings from crime. There are already laws against that - and Matthew Shepard's murderers were successfully prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law in a state with no hate crimes law at the time. The real reason for the invention of hate crimes was a hard-left critique of conventional liberal justice and the emergence of special interest groups which need boutique legislation to raise funds for their large staffs and luxurious buildings. Just imagine how many direct mail pieces have gone out explaining that without more money for HRC, more gay human beings will be crucified on fences. It's very, very powerful as a money-making tool - which may explain why the largely symbolic federal bill still hasn't passed (if it passes, however, I'll keep a close eye on whether it is ever used).  Will at Ordinary Gentlemen demurs:

I tend to think that crimes committed with the intent to harass or intimidate any group are bad, but crimes committed with the intent to harass or intimidate a historically marginalized group are worse. I also think there’s a fair case to be made that certain groups should receive additional protection in the form of more severe criminal punishment for offenders. If a particular crime is more likely to take place or more abhorrent than your run-of-the-mill offense, I’m in favor of prosecuting it more severely. Granted, a lot of this is context-dependent, and I don’t think federal legislation is really necessary, but under the right circumstances I can see how hate crimes enforcement could be justified.

When even defenders of hate crimes laws believe the federal boondoggle is superfluous - given the vast number of states with such laws on the books - you know it's meaningless. My fear is that the Democrats and the Obama administration will tout this as an excuse for doing nothing actually substantive to help gay citizens. How easy to pass a symbolic law that will prevent no crimes rather than, say, remove the disgusting ban on gay servicemembers. And HRC will use it as a reason to keep sending them checks. Please don't.

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