The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Hate Crimes Do Exist!

On June 17, 2015 a pathetic looser walked into a Charleston, South Carolina church. The mostly elderly parishioners were black, he was white. They noticed him and thought he looked troubled so they offered him kindness and concern.

He pulled out a gun and started executing them. He confessed to police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice.”

This sad little boy had no beef with any of the elderly parishioner. They had done nothing to him. But he hated them because of the color of their skin — that was all the motivation he needed. He wanted to start a race war with his action. He wanted more blacks to suffer and die. He wanted to send a message of intimidation and hate to every black person he could.

Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry were out together in Austin, TX on January 19th, 2019. They left a gay club at 2:30 a.m. to go to their vehicle and go home. Two men, who they had never seen before, started shouting insults at them. The men gestured and a group of other men came out of the shadows. They were then attacked and viciously beaten.

An eyewitness to the assault called police and the two men were taken to hospital with concussions and other damage. The attackers didn’t know Deehring or Perry, they didn’t have any grievances against them. They just hated “their kind” and want to let them know it, in the most brutal way possible. They were sending a message to these two men and all other gay men as well.

The American Psychological Association notes:

People victimized by violent hate crimes are more likely to experience more psychological distress than victims of other violent crimes. Specifically, victims of crimes that are bias-motivated are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress, safety concerns, depression, anxiety and anger than victims of crimes that are not motivated by bias.

Hate crimes send messages to members of the victim’s group that they are unwelcome and unsafe in the community, victimizing the entire group and decreasing feelings of safety and security. Furthermore, witnessing discrimination against one’s own group can lead to psychological distress and lower self-esteem.

Crimes motivated by hate serve two purposes. One is to hurt the random victims at hand, the other is to threaten, intimidate and traumatize everyone like them.

Victims of hate crimes suffer trauma. But so do other members of the same class, though normally to a lesser extent. This trauma is triggered over and over every time another incident takes place. I still think of a letter I received from one man, after he read something I wrote. He was regularly beaten by his father for being gay. His father would call him “queer” and punch the boy in the face.

To this day the man says every time he hears that hateful word — and I don’t buy into the “reclaim” it nonsense — he suffers the trauma all over again.

To a large extent the trauma inflicted on the entire class that is hated is the purpose of the individual crime. Hate criminals are not primarily motivated by some grievance against the singular victim, and the community suffers trauma as a result. Instead, they are intending to inflict trauma on the community and the singular victims is the means to that end.

But, even when such incidents were not consciously intended to inflict trauma on the wider class of victims, it does just that. It is a threat, a form of intimidation against every member of the class. It is a form of terrorism.

There was a time I opposed hate crime laws. I assumed things about them as true, which I now do not think to be accurate. My understanding of the facts changed, my conclusion changed with it.

Previously, I saw the crime as the same as any other similar act, but with an additional punishment for the individual’s opinion or motivation. If Bill hits Bob I saw that as a crime, if he hit Bob because he didn’t like blacks, instead of because they disagreed about a football team, I saw that as opinion — albeit a bad opinion.

But, then I realized many hate crimes are not that simple, they had a second element in them — a second crime.

Consider certain acts of vandalism, such as painting swastikas on the side of synagogues. The first crime is the vandalism, the second is the desire to intimidate and threaten an entire community of people.

The hate criminal intends to terrorize specific communities, not specific individuals. Racism is collectivistic in nature, it is the abandonment of liberal individualistic values. It attacks people, not for what they have done, but who they are. The bigot who goes out “fag bashing” has no beef with the individual victims, he is trying to send a message to all gay men, to intimidate all of them. To accomplish this attack on the “collective” group known as gays, he targets one in particular. I see those as two separate, but related, crimes.

Harassing and intimidating someone is a crime. It is still a crime when you harass and intimidate a group of people. Attacking one person is also a crime. The hate criminal is committing two crimes.

Hate crime laws are not equally well written. But, when there is an attempt to harass or intimidate one group of people that is one crime, when it is carried out by assaulting an individual or a specific piece of property that is a second crime.

I think the second crime deserves more punishment than the first. I do think many crimes against individuals and property should be classified as hate crimes because there is the second crime of attempting to intimidate and harass. For that additional offense there should be an additional punishment.

Not every attack on vulnerable groups or groups that have been historically victimized is intended to send a threat to all members of the same class. In cases where the crime is clearly intended to harm an individual then the individual offense is all that exists.

But, there are cases where individuals attack Jews, or African-Americans, transgender individuals, etc., not over some individual dispute or desire to rob, rape, etc. They target the individual for being part of the class they despise, but they aren’t consciously trying to intimidate others.

However, that intimidation and the trauma that comes with it, is a knowable outcome of their action. It may not be a premeditated crime as many hate crimes are, but it is a knowable result from a criminal action. Individuals who physically assault someone may accidentally kill them in the process. They are still responsible for the death even if that was not their intention. The penalties may differ but lacking explicit intention doesn’t fully exonerate them either.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.