Yesterday I read a post about a vicious gay-bashing incident that happened earlier this month. (More about the incident here.) The Human Rights Campaign is using the incident to promote the current hate crimes bill. Although I strongly support gay rights, I oppose hate crimes legislation because in my opinion it is useless, unnecessary, and potentially harmful.
Labeling certain crimes as "hate" is useless. It does nothing in particular to protect victims. It is classic "feel-good" legislation, promoted to make people feel as if they are doing something. Feel-good legislation not only satisfies the political need to "do something," it also serves as a good way to avoid considering measures that might actually have an effect.
Hate crimes legislation provides harsher punishment, but even that appears to be unnecessary. If you look at convictions for people who committed hate crimes, such as the murder of Matthew Shepard, you find that they already got maximum sentences. I find it interesting that the left, which mostly supports hate crimes legislation, usually opposes mandatory sentencing and anything which limits judicial discretion. But for some reason, restricting judicial sentencing options is just fine when it comes to hate crimes.
How can you tell if someone has committed a hate crime? Sometimes it is obvious. But much more often it is not. What is to stop overzealous prosecutors from adding hate crimes charges to otherwise ordinary offenses? Let's say I'm out and I get into an altercation with someone. I overreact, get into a fight, and end up charged with assault & battery. The prosecutor discovers that I'm an atheist, and that the victim was a Catholic. They go through this blog and cherry-pick out all the articles I've written that criticize the Pope and the church, and decide that I attacked the victim because I'm an anti-religious bigot. Suddenly I'm facing hate crime charges. Think this couldn't happen? Then you have a lot more blind faith in our legal system and prosecutors than I.
We don't need hate crimes legislation. What we do need is strict enforcement and harsh punishment of actual crimes, not the thoughts behind them. If you attempt to beat someone to death, it shouldn't matter whether or not it's because he's gay, or because you just felt like killing a random stranger. In either case you had no mitigating reason for your crime. One shouldn't receive any different punishment than the other.