Suppose that I’m a guy struggling through life and my girlfriend breaks up with me because I’m possessive and domineering, and physically abusive. Suppose I stalk her, and she gets a restraining order, and I stew in my own juices about it until she starts dating someone else. And then I kill him.
That’s fucked up. I may have killed a good man, who was going to be better to her than I ever was. He didn’t deserve to die. He had family and friends that loved him, not just my ex, and they will never completely get over it. It’s an unfair situation, to say the least.
There would hopefully be consequences for me.
Now, imagine instead, that I am irrational in a different way. Maybe I hate LGBTQIA+. Or I’m ok with the Lesbians, but the guys make me sick to my stomach, and I kill someone, maybe a transsexual woman. I heard yesterday, at a protest for black trans lives, that average life expectancy of a transsexual woman is 35. It’s not true, but they are at increased risk, so this isn’t that unrealistic a scenario, unfortunately, which we should do something about.
Or, maybe I think that black people are animals, even though I’m actually the animal. It could be like that Jewel song, Pieces of You. I hate them because they are pieces of me.
Am I actually lashing out at myself? Is it self-hate that makes me kill people? Probably.
While one situation might be more common than another (I don’t know which), they’re all still dead.
These crimes deserve a response that is sufficient to protect the public from me, to discourage others from doing what I did, to teach others that it was wrong and why, maybe even to teach me, if I’m teachable, so I can express regret, and maybe teach someone else, and not make the same mistakes in my next life, if I have one. But at the very least, I can’t be free to go around killing people.
If the consequences are right for that kind of crime, then what does labeling it as a hate crime add?
Recent events (and also not recent), outrage us, as they should. Police and their wannabees have been killing black people, usually getting away with it, successfully arguing, for example, that even though they were the aggressor, in the end, they “stood their ground” in self-defense.
Making the punishment harsher, with hate crime legislation, for those who are found guilty, does nothing if they’re not found guilty. And if the consequences for the guilty are already commensurate with the crime, then what does labeling it a hate crime do? Should I get off easier because I killed my ex, or her boyfriend?
I think hate crime legislation misses the point. We support it because we want the punishment to be harsher for crimes that we consider more abhorrent. Maybe killing a man because he is different, because I hate him, is more abhorrent than killing a woman because I need her and still love her. But how much different? How much more pain have I put people in? Can anything we do bring any of them back?
It distracts us from what we should be focusing on which is to make the world a better place, to implement solutions we need to protect people going forward, to make better police, to protect black people, women, LGBTQIA+ and everyone else, including men who happen to be victims. And also to end discrimination in general and provide opportunities for people to pursue happiness, earn and contribute to society.
As much as we want to see someone suffer for this, does it serve our purposes to become the bad guy, to act out of hate, and anger, like they did, to become less human, to treat the person as the thing they did, as if we can destroy it, by destroying him?
By acting instead with a goal in mind, we can model the behavior that we want from others. We can set an example for good, and while we’re at it leave room for error. What if you’re wrong? What if I didn’t do it? What if I’m mentally ill, and that’s why I did it? What if I don’t seem to have the capability to understand? What of co-conspirators, those who didn’t provide me the resources I needed to grow up, who allowed me easy access to guns, who bullied me when I was young, or abused me. Not to make excuses. I’m not suggesting that anyone gets off. If we do what we have to do to protect ourselves, the punishment will be bad enough. We don’t have to be extra cruel. And we don’t have to belittle crimes that aren’t motivated by hate when they create the same pain.