Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why Hate Crimes Laws are Dangerous

One of the main problems with hate crimes laws is that they allow prosecutors to charge someone as if  he or she committed a far more serious crime than what the person actually did. The argument against creating thought crimes is often downplayed by supporters of hate crimes legislation, but a recent incident in Illinois illustrates the problem.
Two days after the rampage by an alleged lone wolf jihadist killed 13 in Texas, a Tinley Park, Ill., woman grumbled about the massacre and tugged the headscarf of a US-born Muslim woman, Amal Abusumayah, standing in line at a local grocery store.
So here we have a situation where some moron apparently blames all Muslims for the shooting, spouts off in public, and pulls on a Muslim woman's scarf.  Stupid and obnoxious, but no actual harm done. This is disorderly conduct or misdemeanor assault, right? Wrong.
The alleged scarf-puller, Valerie Kenney, is charged with a hate crime, and she could face three years in prison and a $25,000 fine if convicted.
Three years in prison for pulling someone's scarf and making nasty comments. Sure, that sounds reasonable, doesn't it? By creating hate crimes laws we empower prosecutors to categorize the thoughts behind people's actions, and impose greater penalties based solely on those thoughts, not on the action. Can we rely on the common sense and judgment of prosecutors? No, unfortunately we can't. Their job is to prosecute, and the more serious the charge, the more important the case. There's no glamour or advancement in prosecuting disorderly conduct. But hate crimes, well, that's a different matter.

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