July 28, 2008

It Might Matter if You’re Black or White

Over the last two weeks, the topic of hate crimes has been in the news twice. The first time came to us from a burned-out coal town in Pennsylvania roughly a week ago. Reading Eagle reporter Mike Urban wrote:
PORT CARBON — Two Schuylkill County teenagers were charged with homicide Friday morning in the beating of a 25-year-old Mexican national in Shenandoah, a killing that rocked the small town partly because the attackers yelled racial slurs at the victim, officials said.

A third teen was charged with aggravated assault and a fourth teen faces juvenile court charges for his role in the death of Luis Ramirez, 25, of Shenandoah, Schuylkill County District Attorney James A. Goodman said.

The four males, all from Shenandoah, also were charged with ethnic intimidation because they used racial slurs while ganging up on Ramirez, punching and kicking him even after he was unconscious, according to court papers.
Ten days later the following article by Daniel Nasaw from The Guardian made the news:
A man who shot and killed two parishioners during a children’s play at a Tennessee church yesterday attacked the congregation because of its outspoken socially liberal and gay-friendly beliefs, police said.

The 58-year-old unemployed engineer accused in the Sunday morning attack at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, was driven to bloodshed in part by his “stated hatred for the liberal movement” as well as his hatred for gays, said Knoxville, Tennessee, police chief Sterling Owen. “We’re certainly investigating it as a hate crime.”
While hate crimes laws have become as ingrained in our legal system as those of homicide, driving under the influence, rape, child molestation, and any other law of which you can think, allow me to do something politically incorrect and challenge those laws for two distinct reasons. Not only are hate crimes applied using double standards, they’re also fundamentally evil because they regulate something that other laws do not: thoughts.

A One-Way Street
Let us begin by illustrating the lopsided application of hate crimes charges by reviewing a few incidents that could have easily been viewed as hateful, but surprisingly—or not, if you consider each situation—were hate crime free, according to authorities.

From a November 2004 Mail Tribune article:
STANFORD, Calif. — Joe Rudulph was suspended indefinitely by Oregon State football coach Mike Riley on Saturday morning.

The redshirt freshman was arrested Friday morning for allegedly assaulting a National Guardsman on leave from Iraq at the Headline Cafe, according to Capt. Jon Sassman of the Corvallis Police Department.

Rudulph, a second-string defensive end, was charged with fourth-degree assault, harassment and disorderly conduct. His initial arraignment is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Dec. 9 in the Benton County Courthouse.


According to Sassman, Rudulph and two other unidentified OSU football players instigated the incident with Staff Sgt. Gabriel Sapp and his wife.

Sapp returned to Iraq Friday. He’s a squad leader assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment, 39th Brigade Combat Team.

Sassman said there were racial comments by the football players, who are black, to Sapp’s wife, who is also black, about her relationship with a white person.

Sapp was hit in the face and knocked out when he hit the ground.
Even though racial comments were used, ethnic intimidation charges were not filed against the black Rudulph. The Corvallis Gazette Times reported:
A trial has been scheduled for Oregon State University football player Joe Rudulph, who is accused of punching a National Guard soldier in November. The 12-person jury trial is set for April 25, and a trial readiness hearing is slated for April 14.

Corvallis police arrested Rudulph at his home Nov. 12, accusing him of assaulting Staff Sgt. Gabriel Sapp outside the Headline Cafe just after the downtown bar closed for the night.

Though some witnesses characterized the fight as racially motivated, a Benton County grand jury declined to charge Rudulph with intimidation—Oregon’s equivalent of a hate crime.
New York
In what might be the most blatant example of double-standards among the stories that I’m using for this post, this incident without question takes the cake. From the New York Sun in April 2006:
The death of a white New York University student who was struck by a car in East Harlem last week while allegedly fleeing a group of black would-be muggers crying “get the white boy” was not a hate crime, police said yesterday.

Broderick Hehman, 20, a junior majoring in metropolitan studies, was struck by an automobile on April 1 when he fled into the street to escape. After slipping into a coma, he died three days later at Harlem Hospital. His death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner on Thursday.


Police yesterday announced the arrests of the four suspects: Hassan Mayfield, 15; Andre Johnson, 15; Denzel Fell, 13, and Bobby Guzman, 13, all of Manhattan. They were each charged with second-degree murder. A fifth suspect is being sought.

Although eyewitnesses allegedly heard shouts of “Get whitey!” from one of the suspects, the commanding officer of the Hate Crimes Task Force, deputy inspector Michael Osgood, said the incident was not racially motivated.

Mr. Osgood described the teenagers as an “organized robbery team” who first targeted a Hispanic man, but were intimidated by a passing police car. Then Hehman came along.

The crime, Mr. Osgood said, was motivated by “economic reasons.” For a hate crime to occur, Mr. Osgood said, “the main reason for the crime must be the identity of the victim. You can see how their purpose of meeting him, engaging him, was to rob him,” Mr. Osgood said.

The racially charged remark of “Get the white boy!” was a “gratuitous slur,” Mr. Osgood said.
In this case, even the use of “whitey” didn’t make it a hate crime. Since they defended its use by the perpetrators as “gratuitous” and the crime itself as “economic,” apparently New York’s Hate Crimes Task Force sees nothing wrong with hatred toward those who have money from those who don’t.

From a June 2007 Chicago Tribune article by Howard Witt (reprinted in the Seattle Times):
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — What happened to Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, a young Knoxville couple out on an ordinary Saturday night date, was undeniably brutal. The pair were carjacked, kidnapped, raped and finally murdered during an ordeal of unimaginable terror last January.

But whether the attack was a racial hate crime worthy of national media attention is another question, one that has now ignited a fierce dispute over the definition of hate crimes and how the mainstream media choose to cover interracial attacks.

That's because the murders of Christian and Newsom didn't fit the familiar contours of a traditional Old South attack, in which whites target blacks and reporters quickly assume the motivation must have been racial.

Instead, the races were reversed: Christian and Newsom were white; the three men and one woman charged with their murders are black. And the consequent failure of the story to gain much media attention outside of the Knoxville area has galvanized conservative commentators across the country, who insist the case offers clear evidence of liberal bias in the major media.


Authorities say the couple’s assailants, some of them ex-convicts, forced their victims to drive at gunpoint to a clapboard house in one of Knoxville’s roughest neighborhoods, where both victims were first raped and then killed. Newsom's body, shot and burned, was found dumped beside nearby railroad tracks, while Christian, who was strangled, was found bundled in plastic garbage bags inside the house.

State prosecutors have lodged murder, rape and other charges against brothers Lemaricus Davidson, 25, and Letalvis Cobbins, 24; Cobbins’ girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, 18; and George Thomas, 24. Their trials are set for next year, and officials have not yet said whether they will seek the death penalty. A fifth suspect was charged in federal court as an accessory.
While the death penalty was a possibility, charges of hate crimes or ethnic intimidation were not.

From a December 2007 Associated Press article:
BALTIMORE — A white woman beaten by a group of black students on a bus has prompted a hate-crime investigation, attempts by transit officials to reassure riders of the safety of the system, and radio talk-show chatter over comparisons with the Jena Six case.

The uproar prompted two leading black politicians to issue statements decrying the attack.

Sarah Kreager, 26, suffered broken facial bones and other injuries after she was punched, kicked and dragged off the bus Tuesday afternoon. Kreager’s companion, Troy Ellis, was also attacked, but not beaten as severely. Kreager has an unlisted phone number and attempts to reach her Friday were unsuccessful.

MTA police said evidence has not been found to support claims by the students’ parents that the children were provoked.

“We are at this point investigating it as a hate crime,” MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said.

The attack immediately drew comparisons on talk radio and Internet blogs to the Jena, La. case in which a white student was attacked by a group of black students, leading to demontrations [sic] by black activists who alleged local authorities were prosecuting blacks more harshly than whites. Many callers and web site posters questioned what they considered a lack of outrage over the latest attacks.
A follow-up story revealed a result that was not surprising:
Sarah Kreager sat stone-faced in the front row of court as the judge read the verdicts. She put her arm around her longtime boyfriend, Troy Ennis, Tuesday as teenager after teenager was convicted of brutally beating her—breaking two bones in her face—aboard an MTA bus in December.

For the first time in a Baltimore City courtroom, the 26-year-old woman smiled.

“Sarah Kreager and Troy Ennis have been vindicated,” prosecutor Janet Hankin said outside the courthouse. “The allegations made against them are untrue and uncalled for. They have caused an unnecessary rift in the community and I hope now the verdicts are in the community can heal from the hurt and the unnecessary racial tension.”

Baltimore City Juvenile Judge David Young convicted four teens—two females and two males—of first-degree assault in the beating of Kreager and Ennis, 30, on the No. 27 bus Dec. 4. A fifth student, a male, was convicted of second-degree assault against only Ennis.
The allegations in this case were made by the attackers’ parents, who claimed that the white Kreager instigated the confrontation by using racial epithets on the bus which was packed with 40 black students. The prosecutor in the case, Dawn Jones, said, “In that situation, the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan [wouldn’t say] the N-word.”

While five teens were convicted, none were charged with a hate crime.

In each of these cases, the similarities stick out like sore thumbs: In order for it to be deemed a “hate crime,” both the victim’s skin color and the perpetrator’s skin color need to be particular hues. If those hues are reversed, the crime is no longer a hate crime. What’s quite interesting to note, however, is a section of Howard Witt’s article that I didn’t include in the above excerpt. Mr. Witt concluded:
In reality, statistics from the FBI and the Justice Department offer a decidedly mixed picture of crime and race in America.

On the one hand, African Americans bear the brunt of violent crime in the U.S.: In 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to fall victim to serious violent crime, most often at the hands of other blacks.

Blacks are also the overwhelming majority of victims of attacks officially recorded by the FBI as hate crimes. In 2005, blacks were the victims in 68 percent of nearly 5,000 hate-crime incidents nationwide, while whites were the victims in 20 percent of the cases. Whites accounted for 60 percent of known hate-crime offenders, while blacks accounted for 20 percent.

But on the other hand, when overall cross-racial violent crimes are tabulated—including incidents not formally classified as racially motivated hate crimes—Justice Department statistics show that blacks attack whites far more often than whites attack blacks.

In 2005, there were more than 645,000 victims of cross-racial violent crimes between blacks and whites in the U.S. In 90 percent of those crimes, black offenders attacked white victims.
In the most recent news report about the church shooting, hate crime charges were also being considered. There were no color lines broken, but there was a hatred shown for a particular political ideology. The shooter had a “stated hatred for the liberal movement.”

Given this in addition to the incidents of black-on-white violence that were not deemed hate crimes, the question must be asked: Will violence against all ideologies be considered hate crimes or only violence against a particular ideology? If a crime is committed against a person who has libertarian views or conservative views, will the perpetrator be charged with a hate crime if it’s determined that the criminal committed the crime out of hatred for the victim’s ideology?

We’d ultimately have to read their mind.

I’m Going to Read Your Thoughts
It’s a classic line from Back to the Future, when Doc Brown sticks a suction cup on Marty McFly’s forehead, in an effort to read the latter’s mind. It’s also the premise of hate crimes legislation and the main reason that I’m opposed to their use.

While supporters will say that hate crimes laws are designed to help further punish criminals who perpetrate violence against people out of hatred, and possibly even deter future similar crimes, the fact remains that the concept of a hate crime is entirely based upon a violation of thought—not an actual act.

Think about it: Whether it’s called “hate crime” or “ethnic intimidation,” there is no actual act being punished—it’s the thought that is the crime. A hate crime can’t be charged by itself; it has to be accompanied by an act of some sort. Whether it’s murder, assault (physical or verbal), or any other act of violence, the charge of hate crime must be added to a violent act. Thus, it’s not aimed at an action; it’s aimed at the thought behind the action.

Consider some of the routine crimes that you read about or hear about on a daily basis: homicide; rape; child molestation; theft; assault; fraud; driving under the influence; extortion; racketeering; drug dealing; illegal gun sales. What do these have in common? They are all actions. Even if we were to consider conspiracy charges, the conspiracy isn’t known until the perpetrator conspires with someone to make their thoughts known.

Hate crimes legislation is much different. The concept behind the law isn’t to go after the act because there are already laws on the books against those illegal acts. Murdering someone will bring homicide charges; rape will bring sexual assault charges; molesting a child will bring child molestation charges; stealing something will bring theft charges. Hate crimes, however, focus exclusively on what a person is thinking. It’s an additional charge to add to what the criminal has done.

Since precedent plays a huge role in our justice system, hate crimes laws have—even if it was unintentional—opened the door for future legislation that might regulate what we think. The legislators in power—whatever political ideology they might be—can be the final arbiters of deciding what thoughts are the “correct” thoughts. If you think otherwise and it’s discovered, you might find yourself needing an attorney as soon as possible.

The bottom line is that the use—or rather, misuse—of hate crimes laws will continue to be debated because a legitimate argument against them exists. Not only is their underlying premise frightening (policing a person’s thoughts), but their actual application has been fraught with double standards.

If anything, they appear to be as discriminatory in nature as those who were initially supposed to be punished by them.

Baltimore Bus Beating Being Probed as Hate Crime.” Fox News. 8 Dec. 2007.

Broadwater, Luke. “Sarah Kreager’s Attackers Convicted in Bus Beating.” Philadelphia Examiner. 19 Mar. 2008.

Elkies, Lauren. “Bias Ruled Out in the Death of NYU Student.” New York Sun. 10 Apr. 2006.

Kirkpatrick, Cliff. “Rudulph Suspended After Assaulting National Guardsman.” Mail Tribune. 14 Nov. 2004.

Nasaw, Daniel. “Tennessee Man Cites Church’s Liberal Values as Reason for Shooting.” The Guardian. 28 July 2008.

Trial Set for Football Player.” The Gazette-Times. 13 Jan. 2005.

Urban, Mike. “4 Arrested in Beating Death.” York Daily Record. 27 July 2008.

Witt, Howard. “When Hate Crime is not a Black and White Issue.” Chicago Tribune. 11 June 2007.


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