12 April 2007

I Hate Hate Crime Laws

I despise the concept of hate crime legislation. If somebody vandalizes something, robs someone, assaults someone, kills someone, or commits any other criminal offence, then why would we need to up the ante on the punishment based upon motivation for the underlying crime? Look, if somebody attacks you, are you really going to feel any better about the assault if you find out that you were their target based on something other than your race, sex, sexual orientation, or religion? Likewise, if somebody is being charged for assaulting you, do you really want them to get a lesser penalty because they failed to scream some epithet at you while attacking you?

If something is a crime, then prosecute the individual for the commission of that crime. Sure, bias against an individual may be the motivating factor for the criminal, but to tack on a heavier punishment for certain biases is biased in and of itself. If somebody assaults someone because the victim appears to be rich, why should that criminal not be subject to the same penalty as somebody who assaults someone because the victim appears to be gay? Both assaults should be prosecuted equally. Besides, isn't equality what all the protected classes claim to be wanting anyway?

What brought all of this up is a story from a few days ago about an incident in Clarksville, Tennessee that is being portrayed as a hate crime. Here's the dastardly deed that was perpetrated.

Two hours before the Islamic Center of Clarksville held its 1 p.m. Friday prayer service, called Jummah, a Quran was found vandalized on the front steps.

The front of the Quran, Islam's holy book, read "Mohammad pedophile" while an expletive was written inside, smeared under two strips of bacon, according to a Clarksville Police report. The report labeled the incident a hate crime.
I do not see how that is a hate crime. Sure, it may be insensitive and in bad taste, but writing something on a koran and adding some pork product before putting on the front steps of a mosque doesn't strike me as the type of thing that should be given some special "this mean spirited prank is worse than other insulting stunts" status.

The act could fall under Tennessee statute 39-17-311 (desecration of venerated object), but that does not make it a hate crime. As it is, if that would be the offense charged, I'd argue that the individual(s) did not actually violate (a)(1) of 39-17-311, because a defaced koran left at a place of worship does not necessarily signify an intentional desecration of a place of worship. If the individual(s) responsible would be convicted of that misdemeanor, though, they shouldn't have their punishment enhanced under 40-35-114 (17) of the Tennessee statutes because, in my opinion, religion was an underlying and essential element of the original offense.

Due to that view of the Tennessee statutes, I don't think that the report's labeling of the incident as a hate crime is accurate. Harrassment, vandalisim, or desecration of a venerated object? Any of those could be conceivable offenses in this instance, but calling it a hate crime just seems to be a move to play to the emotions instead of looking at the letter and the spirit of the law.


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