Don’t charge mob with hate

April 13, 2014 in News by The Manimal

Source: Detroit News

I’ve been hearing from lots of folks — mostly white folks — who find some sort of vindication in the likelihood that hate crime charges will be filed against the suspects in the mob beating of Steven Utash.

After seeing the racism accusation applied so liberally, they get satisfaction when the shoe is on the other foot.

But I don’t think these suspects should be charged with hate crimes.

It’s not that I doubt the dozen thugs who swarmed the Clinton Township man when he stopped to aid a child he’d struck with his pick-up truck on Detroit’s east side were racially motivated — Utash is white, the gang was black.

It just doesn’t matter. No one should ever be charged with a hate crime.

For one thing, layering on the hate crime charge creates unequal classes of victims.

If you get murdered by a junkie who wants your wallet, or a jealous husband, or a maniac on a killing spree, you’re just as dead as someone who gets offed by a racist.

Your family’s loss is just as great, you’re cheated of the same right to life. Why should your justice be less?

What matters is the crime. The motive is irrelevant, except to establish premeditation or support circumstantial evidence.

In the Utash case, the suspects already face the deadly serious charge of assault with attempt to commit murder, which could land them in prison for up to life. In determining a sentence, the judge is free to take into account whether he believes they are dangerous racists who merit a harsher penalty without the prosecutor having to prove this was a hate crime.

Hate crime charges are also a back-door assault on the First Amendment in that they criminalize thoughts, attitudes and speech.

Americans have a constitutional right to hate. We have the right to be racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and all manner of other despicable things.

The hate only becomes criminal if we act on it. And when we do, there are laws in place to cover every offense, whether it’s murder, assault, vandalism or harassment. But the hate itself should not be a prosecuted.

In most cases, what decides whether the hate crime charge is levied is what the suspect says while committing a crime. Utter a racial epithet, and it’s evidence of hate, even if the prevailing motive is actually greed, jealousy or just plain meanness.

That runs contrary to the guarantee that even the most offensive speech is protected by the First Amendment. Nasty name-calling ought to get you punched in the nose, perhaps, but it shouldn’t make you a criminal, even if the slurs occur during the commission of a crime. And even if the insults are racially infused.

The hate crime charge also is used to undermine double jeopardy protections. A defendant cleared in a state court can be charged with a hate crime and prosecuted again by the federal government for the exact same incident.

We can punish criminals for what they do, and not what they think or say, while still delivering justice for their victims — and without weakening the Constitution.