Does Prosecuting “Hate Crimes” Actually Reduce Hatreds?

History up to the present day is rife with instances of one group of people hating—and sometimes attacking—another group of people because of differences that typically have included religion, ethnicity, culture, and nationality.

Engendering hatreds has historically been used to both create group cohesion and encourage one group of peasants to club another group of peasants on their heads because it served the needs of their masters.  Mass manipulation of populations did not begin with television, Facebook, or TikTok.  Caesars, Kings, Czars, and Kaisers knew a lot more about propaganda than Mark Zuckerberg will ever learn in his lifetime.

Moreover, from a purely functional perspective, hatreds have been a dysfunctional shortcut for rational thought for as long as humanity and our ancestors have stalked the earth, and they have often served as a basic survival mechanism by helping to quickly and easily distinguish friend from foe at a glance.  After all, the individuals in that other group likely harbored the same semi-homicidal tendencies based on their own hatreds of you.  Nobody wants to have their heads bashed in with a rock if they can avoid it.  It tends to ruin your day.

Modern efforts to reduce hatreds by encouraging dialogue and reducing—or at least masking—corrosive economic rivalries have been, by and large, a complete failure.  Just ask the hundreds of millions of people slaughtered in war and genocide over the past century.  Brutality driven by hate has certainly not abated recently, and new and improved methods of mass slaughter have created job opportunities for grave diggers all over the globe while creating an aftermarket for revenge killings that is as depressing as it is predictable.

During the 1980’s we heard a new term spring to prominence in the United States: Hate Crimes.  Rather than try to mitigate violence by focusing on the dangerous delusions of large populations, the effort to reduce violence based on hatred moved to a more individual level by both creating a new class of criminal activity and adding heavier penalties to old school crimes such as murder and assault if it could be proven that the crime was motivated by prejudice against a group that was considered to be victimized by historical hatreds.

However, both the how and the why of hate crimes have proven to be problematic, and the ultimate efficacy of using the criminal justice system as a tool to reduce the level of hatred in American society is open to question.

First of all, it must be understood that, with the possible exception of so-called crimes of passion, violence is rarely the result of love.  Moreover, many who threaten or commit violent actions are not entirely sane.  Perfectly logical efforts to de-incentivize criminal behavior by ramping up the consequences don’t work with those who are angry, jealous, embittered, damaged, or just plain crazy—and they never will.  History has instead shown that, for the well being of all, those who commit violent crimes are best removed from the general population and incarcerated for a term deemed congruent with the severity of their crime—regardless of their underlying motivations.  

The stated justifications for the judicial carve out of special, harsher punishments for hate crimes do not, thankfully, address the obviously questionable issues concerning reducing recidivism.  It is instead the case that advocates for enhanced penalties for hate crimes believe that crimes directed at individuals who are part of a historically victimized group also affect all the other members of that same group because they may fear for their own safety as a result.  The real threat is to a victimized community as a whole, so harsher punishments are warranted in order to create a more robust sense of safety for those individuals not directly affected by the crime in question.

Of course, when a serial rapist is terrorizing a city, causing every woman in the vicinity to quake when they walk home at night, there are no calls to prosecute this as a hate crime.  Likewise, if a burglar is robbing homes in a particular area of town, the legitimate fears of the neighbors go unheeded when the perpetrator is arrested and brought to trial.  Spinning out to the more absurd fringes of just how expansive community impact could be, if a gang is stealing the catalytic converters from every Prius in town, should the anger and frustrations that environmentalists feel when their vehicle of choice is targeted be taken into account when the criminal is apprehended and sentence is passed?

At some point during any discussion of the adjudication of hate crimes you are forced to leave logic and consistency behind and take a big, scary step into the funhouse mirrors of identity politics, where the simplistic labels you attach to something matter much more than what it actually is.

The definition of the “historically victimized” groups singled out for special consideration when hate crimes are discussed pretty much translates to mean Black Americans or, increasingly over the past decade, those who are LBGTQ.  Asians had a turn in the the media’s hate crime spotlight for one brief, shining moment during the past two years of Covid-19 panic, but their star seemed to fade away when Boston, inconveniently for that particular narrative thread, elected their first Asian-American mayor last November.  Moreover, lawsuits by Asian-Americans who are complaining that they are being discriminated against in terms of college admissions in the name of “equity” for Black Americans have further muddied the waters regarding just who is a victim of historical victimization.

Sometimes difficult facts get in the way of an otherwise beguiling theory, but the penumbra of historical victimization is still often extended to include a variety of other groups in America whose problems may or may not have anything to do with the burdens of their history in America or elsewhere.  Dig down deep enough for almost any segment of humanity—except for evil white, male, heterosexuals of European descent—and some grievous past harm will certainly be identified because, as stated earlier, history is packed with hatreds.  

Of course, the historical harm still has to fit within the accepted guidelines, so my own Polish father’s enslavement by the Nazis for the majority of World War Two has neither meaning nor relevance because he made the mistake of being a white, male, heterosexual, European.  

So it goes for hate crime typology in 21st century America.  That which does not fit the preferred narrative is either ignored or discarded because complexity is the enemy of ideology.

It is, without any doubt, awful when anyone is denigrated or attacked solely due to attributes that identify them—but do not define them.  Those who make judgments about people in this manner are narrow and ignorant; those who cross the line and physically attack others, whether their motives are based on their idiotic preconceived ideas or not, are liable to face severe criminal prosecution.  This is the law.  It should be rigorously enforced without fear or favor—and without any doubt whatsoever.

However, the self-comforting fantasy of hate crime laws, that they help eliminate the irrational and irresponsible in human nature and consequently make others feel safer, seems to have fostered only confusion regarding the nature and extent of bigotries in our nation, and it often seems that much that should be examined and discussed is excised from our national conversations.

For example, is it the case that the 90% of Black Americans who are killed each year by other Black Americans are killed with love, so any questions regarding whether a hate crime is involved are null and void?  

If by its very definition a hate crime is committed only when a White American kills (or injures) a Black American, the definition seems both deficient and bizarrely skewed.  Worse yet, it is apparently impossible for a Black American to kill a White American with hateful intent because White Americans are not considered to be a historically victimized segment of the population, which further reduces all our human interactions to silly, empty labels that tend to obscure reality rather than illuminate it.

And don’t even ask about the creepily fashionable anti-Semitism that now runs rampant on so many American college campuses for reasons that seem to escape the notice of those preoccupied with the identification and prosecution of hate crimes that conform to a peculiar and inconsistent standard of just who has been subject to historical victimization.  Indeed, to believe that American victimization of any sort is inextricably linked to skin color or certain expressions of human sexuality is to take a mighty leap into illogic that harms us all.  

This foolishness is, however, a handy political tool that brings scholarships, grants, and job opportunities to a chosen segment of loyal Democratic Party supporters and simultaneously builds the growing industry of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultants in government, academia, and the private sector whose well-paying and powerful jobs are dependent on convincing Americans that hatreds must be counterbalanced by efforts to subvert meritocracy at every turn in order compensate for historical victimizations.  

Convincing voters that hatred is everywhere also creates a constituency for all manner of government spending and transfer payments that are justified on the grounds that entrenched discrimination must be battled by heaving hefty bags of cash at a spectrum of groups, organizations, colleges, businesses, educators, individuals, and others who have either suffered themselves or know how to end the suffering of others.

Given that Hate Crime laws, which unsurprisingly and inevitably morphed into Hate Speech laws, have seemed to have done little to improve relations between Americans—and likely encourage hucksters such as Jussie Smollet to claim victimization where none actually has occurred—we are left with three difficult questions to resolve.

First, can we reduce hatred with harsh punishments and public shaming, or we simply creating the conditions conducive to yet more hatred and the retributions that inevitably follow by turning what should be simple criminal matters into public spectacles that only engender more fear in the general population?

Next, are the efforts being made today to divide Americans into either victims or victimizers by those with an obvious monetary or political interest in the outcomes a fool’s errand that is divorced from the maddening complexities and contradictions of real life in our incredibly diverse nation?

Finally, are we actually empowering a more pervasive sense of victimization that drives governmental and private sector initiatives that seek to battle injustices perpetrated against innocent victims with yet more injustices perpetrated against equally innocent victims—those who have committed no crime but are punished for being part of a group considered to be the historical victimizer of others?

The overwhelming majority of Americans would like to live in a more harmonious nation, which is exactly why so many are willing to support anyone who claims to have the magic beans that will replace hatred with love.  However, this might be a very good time to stop and rethink the principles and practices that now demand we are labeled at birth and thereafter treated as if the surface characteristics of our race, sexual identity—or gender, religion, ethnicity or other immutable factors—is somehow sufficient to reveal what is in our hearts, minds, and souls?  

Given that we all share roughly 99% of our genetic material, would we be far better off focusing our energy on what connects us rather than what divides us in our desperate—yet laudably human—quest for peace and understanding?

This is certainly worth considering as we all struggle to recover from the pandemic pain of the past two years.  We can create a stronger nation by working together, and we must stop giving our time, attention, and money to those who profit from pushing unending divisions that only needlessly and wantonly harm all Americans.