Commentary: Why I Will No Longer Support Hate Crimes Enhancements

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By David M. Greenwald

We live in an evolving world and anyone who has set beliefs locks themselves in to what might have been dated reasoning or responses to past situations.  When I worked in DC in the mid-1990s during the Clinton Administration, the groups I was working with were pushing for stronger hate crimes legislation.

History showed there were good reasons for that.  While conservatives often pushed back with the argument that a crime is a crime, reformers saw a different sort of calculation.  First, that white perpetrators with victims who are people of color faced much lighter punishment than if the victims were white.

In fact, for decades people of color who were victims of crimes rarely received justice from the system at all.  The people who brutally murdered and tortured Emmett Till in 1955 were acquitted.  The people who killed the three civil rights workers in Mississippi a decade later had to be charged in federal court, not with murder but with civil rights violations.  The killer of Medgar Evers like so many others was only tried and convicted decades later.

To this day there is a huge discrepancy in death penalty sentences, as the biggest determinant of whether or not someone gets the death penalty—holding equal the type of crime committed—is whether the victim is white or of color.  While white victims account for half of all murder victims overall, 80 percent of all capital cases involve white victims.

In a study that is a bit dated, “as of October 2002, 12 people have been executed where the defendant was white and the murder victim black, compared with 178 black defendants executed for murders with white victims.”

In contrast to the arguments of conservatives here, hate crime legislation was therefore a way to create more equal justice.

The second justification for hate crime legislation and enhancements is that a hate crime is not just a crime against an individual, but against a community.  When a Black person was lynched in the south, it wasn’t just a murder, it was terrorism.  It was a message to the Black community to stay in their place.

Hate crimes seek out vulnerable victims and deliver messages to whole communities.

Given these arguments, you might wonder why I have changed my mind on hate crimes enhancements.  After all, the system of Jim Crow justice may be gone in that we no longer expect that whites who kill Blacks in the South will get off scot-free.  At the same time, we know that they might not get the same punishment as a Black person who kills a white person.

First of all, in the case of the Atlanta Shooting, the idea that we should be debating over whether or not there should be hate crimes enhancements is absurd.  The guy has basically admitted to having killed eight people.  Is having a hate crimes enhancement going to make any sort of reasonable difference?

The media has, I think irresponsibly, portrayed this as a test for the Georgia Hate Crimes law just put on the books a year ago.  They are not questioning whether having hate crimes enhancements at all is an avenue to better justice.

It is a fair and open question as to whether or not hate was the motivation, and I think that is an important issue.  The hate crime enhancement in what is a multiple first degree murder case is absurd.

You might argue that this could make it special circumstances, which justify the death penalty.

Maybe.  But that just illustrates the problem here.  We know if this were a Black defendant with white victims, the prosecution seeking the death penalty would be almost automatic.  So equal justice therefore dictates that the prosecution should seek the death penalty here as well.

The problem for me is that I oppose the death penalty in all cases.  I believe it is not an effective deterrent. I believe that is it discriminatory and arbitrary in terms of who gets it.  I think the system is riddled with problems of wrongful convictions and ineffective counsel.

The idea that equal justice requires us to ramp up punishments for all is part of the main driver of mass incarceration.

Therein lies the key to my opposition to hate crimes.  We have a system of mass incarceration that is punctuated by inequality.  Even controlling for other key variables, Blacks are more likely to be arrested, then prosecuted, then convicted, then receive prison time and ultimately longer sentences than whites.  The disproportionality is beyond that of their share of the population and beyond that of their share of crimes committed on several key measures.

Moving to a system that addresses that inequality through more punishment is fixing the problem in the wrong direction.

The problem that we have is too much incarceration—not too little.  The US locks people up at a higher rate than anywhere else on the planet and, in fact, in the history of civilization.

Currently, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, the US incarcerates 698 out of every 100,000 people.  Meanwhile the US accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population (and shrinking) but one in every five persons incarcerated is in the US according to data from the Prison Policy Initiative in 2019.  Nor is this because the US (at least at this point) has a higher rate of crime than other industrialized nations.

Increasingly, I don’t believe that prison—while at times clearly necessary—is the solution to crime.  More prison time doesn’t make us safer—in fact, you can argue it makes us less safe by taking away resources that can go into things like education and job training and mental health services, instead putting them into locking people up, often past the point where they represent a real threat to society.

So yes, we still have unequal justice, but I just no longer believe that the answer to unequal justice is to double down on long sentences for all.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “Commentary: Why I Will No Longer Support Hate Crimes Enhancements”

  1. Alan Miller

    First of all, in the case of the Atlanta Shooting, the idea that we should be debating over whether or not there should be hate crimes enhancements is absurd.

    I agree, but not in your logic, only because ‘we’ are not the people who will decide this, and having the decision play out in the media/social-media is what is absurd.  I am not opposed to hate crime enhancements – but I’m totally opposed to how they are often applied because the application is often arbitrary and misses the point.

    Such as, someone gets in a fight with someone and yells a racial slur, and full of adrenaline and alcohol, yells a racial slur.  The cop checks the box for hate crime.  Then their lawyer spend their time trying to get the enhancement removed.  That’s just stupid.  Sticks & Stones.  Lawyer employment act.

    What is dangerous is societal contagion.  When a group gets whipped up against another.  KKK lynching blacks.  Whites keeping Japanese out of Yolo County towns and burning down their homes after WW-II.  An Imam calling for the worldwide extermination of Jews in a small California town (no crime involved, just free speech, #doh!#).  Gay man dragged behind a truck by two yahoos in flyover country.    Crimes committed in such atmospheres should be treated as hate crimes.  Societal or group contagion of hate against ‘others’ is dangerous.

    But if they ever catch the guy who scrawled “Grout out the Jews” in tiny letters between shower tiles, unless you can prove they are part of anti-Jewish hate group or has tendency towards violence against Jews, please don’t check the hate crime box, this Jews says.

  2. Ron Oertel

    Of course, the other problem with the “hate crime” definition is that it often doesn’t seem to apply, when blacks (for example) attack people with other skin colors.

    And/or, target people with other skin colors for “other” claimed reasons (e.g., involving brutal robberies, etc.).

    But lately, we’ve seen videos showing totally unprovoked attacks which don’t even involve robbery.

    Given the nature of media coverage, it’s difficult to determine if this is a significant new pattern, how widespread it is, or whether or not it’s “new”.

    Ultimately, it’s pretty difficult to know what goes on in someone else’s mind. (And sometimes, perpetrators may not even be fully aware of the reasons.)

    1. Ron Oertel

      A quick Internet search turned up the following (for what it’s worth).  Probably something that most people don’t want to talk about, as it’s both uncomfortable and directly contradicts the narrative that some espouse. And given the sensitivity of the subject, overall – one has to wonder if it’s more harmful than helpful, to acknowledge it.

      But ultimately, if you lie about reality, most people do acknowledge it within themselves at least:

      The odds of a black person attacking a white were 48 times greater than the odds of a white attacking a black. Blacks were more likely to attack people of every other race more often than they were attacked by them: 47 times more likely to attack an Asian than vice versa, and 3.6 times more likely to attack a Hispanic.

      The odds of a Hispanic attacking a white were 6.5 times greater than the reverse. Asians commit crime at lower rates than other racial groups (gambling offenses are the only exception). However, when they do commit interracial violence, they are 18 times more likely to attack a white than vice versa.

      (link removed)

        1. Keith Olsen

          How do you know this?  How come just about any crime committed by a white person against a person of color is usually considered a hate crime but the opposite doesn’t apply?   Ron laid it out very eloquently.

        2. Carlos Garcia

          The stats don’t come close to bearing your point out.  Nationwide in 2019, less than 9000 hate crimes offenses.  That’s less than one percent of all offenses committed by whites against POC.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I’m not confusing anything – just was curious as to the statistics regarding “who” is attacking “who”.

        It seems rather shocking, as this is the first time I’ve seen something like this. Isn’t anyone going to challenge it based upon source, or for some other reason? I found it pretty quickly.

        Ultimately, it’s difficult to determine the reasons why someone targets another. They may not be fully aware of the reasons, themselves (“unconscious bias”).

         

        1. Ron Oertel

          When one group disproportionately victimizes another group, hatred may be at least part of the reason. The acts can also foster hatred between groups.

          Same reason that some automatically conclude that the white guy who attacked the Asian parlor and spa was racially-motivated.

      2. Bill Marshall

        Ron O… looked at your cite… did you note the source?

        Comes from America Renaissance… a white supremacy publication…

        American Renaissance (magazine) – Wikipedia

        Do you still stand by your cite?   Possibly ‘revealing’… note the data comes from NCVS…

        National Crime Victimization Survey – Wikipedia

        A survey, not a compilation of records…

        Unless you support the mentality of  Jared Taylor (author in your cite), the founder of American Renaissance (tu comprends francais?  real close to MAGA), I suggest you contact the Moderator and have your second post deleted… if you support that view, let it stand, by all means…

        Note the ‘shorthand’ American Renaissance uses is AR… as in AR-15, the weapon easily available in the internet as a ‘kit’, with no registration #’s… the weapon used in Boulder… coincidence?

        Have a good day…

    1. Bill Marshall

      KO… much cleaner cite…. thanks… please note, as I mentioned before, data was based on ‘surveys’, not compilation of hard data (note the footnotes for both Tables)… perhaps there is no ‘reporting system’ in place, so they have to rely on surveys… if it is the best info available, it is the best info available… but I stand by my questioning the provenance of the data, given how it was presented in the original cite, which has been deleted…

  3. Ron Oertel

    The stats do not come closing to bearing your point out.  Nationwide in 2019, there were less than 9000 hate crimes offenses.  That’s less than one percent of all offenses committed by whites against POC.

    I believe this (could) prove the primary point I was making, regarding what (exactly) is labeled as a “hate crime”.

    Do you still stand by your cite?   Possibly ‘revealing’… note the data comes from NCVS…
    National Crime Victimization Survey – Wikipedia

    Is that not a valid source?

    … if you support that view, let it stand, by all means…

    I neither stand by it (the statistics), nor repudiate it.  (Just something I found.)

    Do you think it’s incorrect?

    Comes from America Renaissance… a white supremacy publication…

    Is that right?  (Not familiar with it.)  But if it’s based upon the National Crime Survey, would it be incorrect?

    Truth be told, I’ve had trouble finding statistics regarding the issue, without some kind of political agenda attached.

     

  4. Carlos Garcia

    (I started to respond to a post by Ron Oertel that appears to be gone now.)

    Assuming the accuracy of the white supremacy data.  When white people are victims of crime, the data is telling you that blacks are the offender only 15% of the time.

    When blacks are victims of crime, the data is telling you that whites are the offender only 10 percent of the time.

    Whites are seven times more likely to be victims than blacks, but five times more numerous than blacks overall.

    So whites are slightly more likely to be victims than their share of the population and slight more likely to victims of black crimes than blacks are victims of white crime.

    But none of these data speak to hate crimes, so again, I ask the relevance unless you wish to conflate the two.

    Also, among the hate crimes, only 57% of those charged were based on race or ethnicity, so the percentage of crimes charged as hate crimes is actually even lower than I cited above.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Question from Carlos:

      But none of these data speak to hate crimes, so again, I ask the relevance unless you wish to conflate the two.

      Answer from Carlos to his own question:

      Also, among the hate crimes, only 57% of those charged were based on race or ethnicity, so the percentage of crimes charged as hate crimes is actually even lower than I cited above.

      There are some, for example, who have been pushing the DA in San Francisco to charge the following case as a hate crime.  Unsuccessfully so far, I understand:

      Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, was fatally assaulted on a San Francisco street. His family says attack was driven by hate. – CNN

      Here’s another incident, which I believe was (also) not prosecuted as a hate crime:
      https://abc7news.com/san-francisco-police-elderly-man-attacked-bayview-neighborhood-visitacion-valley/5964588/

      Bottom line is that official “hate crime” statistics may not actually be capturing “hate-driven” crime.  Some claim that this is (also) true regarding the parlor/spa shooting in the Atlanta area (so far, at least).

      The reason for the discrepancy may be due to the underlying reason that the hate-crime category was created in the first place. (In other words, it was seemingly intended to capture only one type of hate crime, based upon a particular skin color. You can see that from David’s article, as well.)

      I believe this is my last allowed comment.

  5. Eric Gelber

    The problem that we have is too much incarceration—not too little.  The US locks people up at a higher rate than anywhere else on the planet and, in fact, in the history of civilization.

    If the issue is too much incarceration, doing away with hate crimes is not the solution. Hate crime prosecutions are rare, particularly compared to the myriad other sentence enhancements in the law. There are numerous arguments against hate crime laws; I’m not convinced this is one of them. For other arguments against hate crimes see, https://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1941&context=plr

    Proving motivation is difficult but, sometimes, by a perpetrator’s actions or statements before, during, or after the crime the primary motivation can be established.

    The argument in favor of hate crime laws is that they are not crimes merely against an individual; rather, they are directed at whole communities—a form of domestic terrorism. There’s little doubt that crimes such as the killing of Mathew Shepard, the attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue, the Charleston church shooting, etc. were motivated by animus against entire communities, not individuals.

    I agree that we need to address the issue of mass incarceration. I just don’t agree that repealing hate crime legislation is the place to start.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Reports from his brother, who lives with him, far more likely severe MH episode after a history of MH issues… sisters has similar account… nice try, KO…

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