A reader writes:
I understand and am wholly sympathetic to your position on hate crimes laws. At the same time, you blog about police treatment of LGBT folks. With respect to Memphis, did you ever see the shocking beating of a trans person at the hands of the Memphis police department? Later on, that person was found dead from a gun shot wound and the killers are still at large. Seriously, do you fully trust local law enforcement to properly investigate crimes against the LGBT community? I don't.
In fact, I fear the local police nearly as much as I do the people that they are supposed to be apprehending. This is particularly true when I'm visiting folks back home-in the South. The hate crimes law gives one more way for the federal government to come in and investigate crimes when local law enforcement does not do it.
Another reader wheels out a common defense of hate crimes law:
I read your article on why you oppose hate crime laws, and I understand where you're coming from. Much of your focus is on the 'hate' itself, on how difficult it is to determine (in a legal setting) what it is that motivates an individual when they are committing a crime. From your perspective - focusing on the culpability of the criminal - it is hard to justify doling out a more severe punishment based solely on what's going on in a person's head. It feels as if you are criminalizing thoughts.
However, the criminal's moral culpability is only one piece of the punishment puzzle; the other is the harm. Hate crimes involve a greater harm than non-hate crimes because they have an impact beyond the particular victim. If someone starts beating up Jews in a Jewish neighborhood while spewing anti-Semitic invective, they are effectively terrorizing an entire community. If a drunk driver falls asleep at the wheel, we punish him more if he hits another car and kills people in it than we do if he merely hits a tree and destroys his car - we do this even though the criminal's state of mind and moral culpability were identical. It is the greater harm we are punishing. So, too, should hate crimes carry a greater punishment than general crimes. To do otherwise is to ignore that when a hate crime is committed, the 'actual' victim is never the only intended victim.