The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Friday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central time on ShockNetRadio.com.
Hate Crimes = Thought Crimes
A Reflection by Ronald Bruce Meyer
Why is it that so many Americans apparently don't "get" our Constitution?
I've been thinking about that Muslim cab driver in NYC who was stabbed by a white male passenger after admitting he is Muslim. The passenger was arraigned on August 25 on charges of attempted murder and assault, both as hate crimes.
No, it wasn't enough for 21-year-old Michael Enright to be charged with attempted murder and assault for attacking 43-year-old Bangladesh-born American Ahmed Sharif, after asking him that religious question. No, Enright can get "enhanced" punishment — the punishment can be "one category higher" — if he is convicted under New York's Hate Crimes Act of 2000.
When passing the Act, the New York State Legislature found that: "Crimes motivated by invidious hatred toward particular groups not only harm individual victims but send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all members of the group to which the victim belongs." The Act continues, "In a democratic society, citizens cannot be required to approve of the beliefs and practices of others, but must never commit criminal acts on account of them."
I guess I half expected something like this to happen in the wake of the ginned-up, right-wing rage over the community center and mosque planned for some private property two blocks from the hole in the ground — which (to our shame) is still a hole in the ground — where the World Trade Center stood nine years ago.
But I expected better of the "left wing," such as it is, in this country.
Hate crime? Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have criminalized various types of hate crimes. Federal law can be used to punish crimes committed on the basis of a person's race, religion, nation origin or other group membership — and this was expanded in 2009 to include perceived gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability.
I'm guessing there is one section of the 14th Amendment that must have been left out of the New York Legislature's copy: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
That's the Equal Protection Clause. And I'm having trouble getting my head around how treating one group better than another group can make them equal. George Orwell warned against making certain words mean their exact opposite in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). But he said it explicitly four years earlier in Animal Farm (1945): "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
We have laws against physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, offensive graffiti and hate mail, don't we? What purpose is served by enhanced penalties simply because of the thought behind the crime?
Isn't a hate crime really a thought crime? And since every crime has some thought or passion motivating it, isn't every crime a hate crime?
What good is served by dividing society into groups with special protections and those without special protections, and then pitting those groups against each other?
What good is served by causing groups to feel persecuted by one another?
What good is served by perverting the law into protecting groups rather than individuals?
What good is served by increasing the power and strength of the government, the police and prison system?
What good is served by fooling people into believing our legislators are being "tough on crime," when in fact they are manipulating identity politics?
As for that Muslim cab driver who was stabbed by a white male passenger, reportedly for being a Muslim: how is religious tolerance advanced by making crimes against one religious adherent more serious than crimes against another?
At the risk of being arrested for a "hate crime" against the victims of 9/11 because I stand with equal protection of the laws, I think we should be punishing criminal acts, not incorrect thoughts.