Friday, March 24, 2006

Bumperstickers, hate crimes, and has the Chamber stepped in it again?

Not much happening in local politics lately.  The Chamber did a candidate training session yesterday, featuring some local experts, and locals who are not-so-expert.  JMac writes it up, but for what it’s worth, we think it was more of a nonpartisan affair than you might think, given the sponsoring body.  We wonder if some of our commenters like James Garland and Andy Rusk were in attendance, and if they were there, what they thought.

Anyway, as we said, not much happening in local politics lately, so you’ll forgive us for addressing a couple of non-local issues.  

Bushit?

The first thing is the case of the possibly obscene bumper sticker.  The ABH writes it up today, and the woman involved had a letter in Flagpole on Wednesday.  As all of you guys know, we are vociferous and sometimes strident in our defense of your First Amendment rights, and this is no different.  However, the issue is not the officer, it’s the law.  If you presume, as we do, that personal politics were involved to at least some extent in the stop, then the problem is much less with the officer who made the stop, and much more with the vaguely written law that allowed him to do so.  No matter how you feel, we’re going to speculate that, at this point, both the officer concerned and his department wish that he had taken a pass on this particular motorist.  

The other thing that we wanted to say is directed at our fellow liberals.  Guys, please, please, puh-leeze do not get too worked up about this thing.  It’s going to court, she’s got a lawyer, and we’re 99.9% convinced that this case is going to be resolved the correct way.  Save the histrionics for the issues that really matter, like the policy that our government is pushing on our communities.  And before you get all up in arms, we’ll say this.  Widespread government censorship of political speech is a major problem.  One cop with too much time on his hands, who may or may not have an agenda, and certainly does have an inadequate understanding of the law is not a problem.  It’s why we have a Bill of Rights, and it’s why we have a court system.  This is blogbait, designed to get the more histrionic folks on both sides of the ideological spectrum pissed off.  Don’t take the bait, mmmkay?  Also, it’s not even a particularly well-conceived or funny bumpersticker, not that creativity should count.

Having said all that, we do admit that there’s something about this whole situation that smacks of a slippery slope and the thought police slavering hungrily at the bottom.  

Hate Crimes

And hey, speaking of the thought police, hate crime legislation passed the State Senate.  Here’s another one of those things where the liberals are going to get pissed at us, or at least at me; I’m not sure how DiDDY feels about hate crimes legislation, but I’m sure he’ll weigh in.  

Folks, hate crimes legislation is bad policy.  You’ve got rights in this country; some, like your right to practice whatever religion you want to practice, are Consitutionally defined and absolute.  Others, like your right to privacy, are there but vague.  

Friends, you have the right to hate whoever you want to hate, and the government has no right to call you on it.  Don’t expect me, as an individual to sanction your hatred, and don’t expect society to sanction your hatred.  Hate is wrong, it’s the root of a lot of our problems – politically, economically, societally, and spiritually.  But, you can hate whoever you want, for whatever reason you want.  It’s wrong, it sucks, but it isn’t illegal – and if you make it illegal, you’re inviting the thought police into your living room and mine.  I’m not cool with that, and I hope you aren’t either.

Hate crimes laws are a great example of what happens when good intent is bad practice.  To prove a hate crime in court is difficult at best, because you can’t prove what a person was thinking when they committed a crime.  

Another problem with hate crimes is that laws that impose a stricter penalty based on some vague concept of “hate” inevitably does some victims a disservice.  Is the loss of a four-year-old to crossfire from a white-on-white murder attempt any less of a loss to society than a four-year-old who gets killed out of racial hatred?  Will the child’s parents grieve any less because – gosh, at least it wasn’t a hate crime?  Either way, civilized society has suffered another blow, and we’ve got another dead kid.  

Finally, you’ve got to question the purpose of hate crimes legislation.  Is it supposed to be a deterrent?  Is the possibility of a few extra years in jail going to keep another incident like the Matthew Sheperd case from happening?  Or are hate crimes laws supposed to be a way to keep the really bad sociopaths locked up for awhile longer?  If that’s the case, and that’s what I’ve heard often as a justification, then aren’t we saying that some homicides are more justifiable than others?  (Obviously there are mitigating circumstances, like self-defense, which do make some murders more justifiable than others.  Race, religion, or sexual orientation should not be one of those mitigating factors.)

I would also mention that, as a sop to my liberal friends, if hate crimes laws are to be seriously enforced, then someone had best take a look at the government.  The death penalty has been unfairly applied on a racial basis for decades, making the governments of Texas and Georgia among the country’s most egregious hate crimes offenders.

Hatred, bigotry, intolerance – it’s perhaps the worst aspect of human nature.  But you have to change these things socially and culturally, not legislatively.  Unjustified murder is unjustified murder, and if it’s proven in court, should be punished to the full extent of the law, regardless of race, creed, color, or sexual orientation.

23 comments:

GP said...

I agree with Publius. Also, hate crimes have a potential to be only enforced on the majority race. I would challenge anyone to cite an example of a black on white hate crime etc. that has been prosecuted.

hillary said...

Not so much concurring with all of the above, but yeah. It's bad legislation.

James Garland said...

I attended the Chamber's candidate workshop last night (obligatory disclaimer: when I ran four years ago, the Chamber didn't have a PAC and none of the big names commonly associated with the Chamber gave me a dime). Though most of the information doled out was nothing new to us pointy-headed policy wonks types, there were a couple of useful nuggets to be had. Some of the presentations, such as those concerning polling and demographics, were obviously intended for folks running for offices higher than the county level.

Insofar as political affiliations are concerned, the presenters whose leanings I know were split pretty much down the middle. Also, the candidates I recognized were split between Democrats and the GOP.

As others have stated, hate crimes are an absolutely horrible idea. They take criminal offenses out of the realm of actions and place them into the realm of thoughts and intentions (or even supposed thoughts and intentions). If it is a crime, it is a crime. I don't give a rip about a perp's rationale. The idea of criminalizing thought opens a door that I think we don't really need to go through.

Jmac said...

No one has pointed out that Publius used 'histrionics' twice in one paragraph.

Awesome.

Regarding the Chamber, I'm going around clarifying my stance because it's coming across like I smacked them around for holding this thing, and that wasn't my intent at all. My points were ...

1. If the Chamber is a business networking/promotional organization, is it wise to attempt to develop political candidates. Seeing how this training session was directed by its PAC, it's understandable they offer a session.

2. I was merely wondering aloud if it was appropriate for organizations such as the Chamber to train candidates. Again, I appeared critical, but I'm actually quite neutral on the matter. All organizations have a vested interest in being involved in the political process, so being engaged isn't necessarily a bad thing.

3. From what I've heard from folks in attendance, it was a very bipartisan crowd. I never argued that it was a partisan event because I don't honestly think Athens-Clarke County breaks down along party lines when it comes to local elections (it differs at the state and federal levels). Instead I insisted the primary divide in this town stems from groups favorable to the political agenda of the Chamber and those unfavorable to the political agenda of the Chamber. Again, from what I've heard, there was a good mix of both crowds at the training session last night (which is very good to hear).

4. Regardless of the benefits which all potential candidates and their staffs got, this also was an excellent opportunity for the Chamber to identify individuals who can help its PAC achieve its goals in the future.

Publius said...

James,

Any chance on a rundown of which candidates were there, as well as who was teaching stuff?

Publius said...

" No one has pointed out that Publius used 'histrionics' twice in one paragraph"

Did I? Whoops a daisy. I know enough words to not use the same one twice in the same graf.

Anonymous said...

You're missing the point on hate crimes. The laws are against someone's actions. If you beat up a black guy because he's black, not only is it battery, but it is also an act of terrorism against all black people. 'Hate crimes' send the message to other minorities to be afraid. That is why they are punished more severly. It is because they are an act of terrorism.

Publius said...

I love it when people tell me I'm missing the point. To hear you guys talk sometimes, I miss more points than Danny Devito in a game of Horse.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but hate crimes laws are not against actions, they are against the thoughts that a person is having while committing an action. Put another way, the crime of battery is against an action - the action of battery. Hate crimes laws are against the mental or emotional motivating factor that psuh a perpetrator to commit battery, homicide, whatever.

Now the terrorism point is an interesting angle. It's an interesting way to look at hate crimes from a societal perspective, but I don't really know about the legal side on that. In any event, you still have to prove it in court, which is nearly impossible, given the subjective nature of the "crime."

Jmac said...

OK, but that still doesn't address the main crux of Publius' argument - that someone killing someone because of their religious beliefs or their race results in the same outcome as an someone killing someone because of a botched robbery or rage. The outcome is the death of an individual, and shouldn't murder be punished the same way for all (life sentences in prison or the dealth penalty, wherever your beliefs lie)?

All of that said, I don't think Publius' argument is fool-proof. The courts and legislators invite the 'thought police' all the time. There are different levels (I can't think of a more appropriate term) to the killing of an individual(s) - involuntary manslaughter, murder one, homicide, etc., while we also permit some crimes to face lesser punishment despite resulting in the same action.

For instance, a person who killed someone through involuntary manslaughter receives a distinctly different penalty than someone who murdered another in cold blood. Likewise, a person who kills another in self-defense or in defense of his family often is granted this permission under legal system, while someone who chased an unarmed attacker out of his/her house and shot them in the street would arguably face some sort of penalty for the use of excessive and unnecessary force.

We've already invited the 'thought police' in, so there is an argument to be made to putting it to the work of those best intentions, such as punishing those who commit crime in the names of unadulterated hate or bigotry.

I'm not sure if I endorse such an invitation, but it isn't as if we have all of sudden opened the door to this kind of thing.

Publius said...

All of a sudden, I'm the point man on hate crimes.

I'm going to take issue with my good friend here. Supposedly, the degrees of murder, including manslaughter both voluntary and involuntary, are evidentially provable.

If I kill a guy for invading my house and threatening my life or Ms. Publius' life, then there's evidentiary proof that I acted in self-defense - for instance, a dead would-be burglar on my dining room floor.

If I kill a guy randomly, all other things being equal, then that's first-degree murder. How are you going to prove beyond a reasonable doubt whether I killed him because I didn't like the color of his skin, or because I didn't like the color of his necktie? The former is a hate crime, the latter isn't.

GP said...

The difference between homocide, involuntary manslaughter etc. can be looked at on as an emotional state rather than a belief.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

The same way you prove any thing beyond a reasonable doubt: evidence. Presumably there will be circumstantial evidence of the racial motivation in the crime: maybe the guy is a member of a neo-Nazi group, or goes to websites supporting the same type of racially motivated violence. Maybe he told somebody a week earlier he was going to kill a black person. We put these kinds of things in front of a jury all the time.

I don't know if I support the hate crimes bill or not; I'm still conflicted on it. But I agree with Jmac; the cat's out of the bag on having to prove what's inside somebody's head. You have to do that to prove the "intent" required for murder, for example. How can you ever know what somebody truly intended? Well, maybe you can't, but you can "prove" it with circumstantial evidence.

As far as the "same result" argument goes, let me throw this one out there. We have laws that enhance penalties for gang-related crimes. Why? Isn't somebody just as dead whether the guy that shot them is in a gang or not? Presumably we enhance the penalty because we believe a stronger deterrent than normal is needed to prevent this type of activity (and/or the activity is worse than normal crime, and therefore deserves more punishment).

Look, like I said, I'm still not sure where I stand on this, but I don't think it's getting a fair shake in these comments. It's not only "thought" that's being regulated, it's thought in conjunction with action, and I'm not sure that's so different than many other existing crimes.

Publius said...

So, let's take the presumption that you started. White guy blows away a black guy with a shotgun. Circumstantial evidence shows that the perp has a history of visiting white power websites and has been seen in public with figures who are known leaders in the KKK. So is blowing away the black guy a "hate crime"?

Not so fast. What if the white guy is a reporter doing research on a book about hate groups? Still a hate crime?

What if the white guy is a racist, but he blew away the black guy because he walked in on the black guy in bed with his wife? Is that a hate crime?

In any of the above situations, there is enough circumstantial evidence to bring up the additional penalities for committing a hate crime. But real life is a little more nuanced. You're going to say, "Put it in front of a jury." I'm going to say it shouldn't be the law to begin with.

The fact is, and I think most folks will agree (regardless of whether you support hate crimes laws or not), most crimes, 99.9% of crimes are committed for one of two reasons. Profit or hate. Profit isn't really relevant to this discussion, but hate is hate, whether it's based on the color of a person's skin, their sexual orientation, their religion, or because you caught them shtupping your wife.

The question I'd like to see an honest, well-reasoned answer to is this: Why is it somehow deemed worse to kill someone "because he's gay" (black, Muslim, whatever) than "because I've had enough of his crap"?

Finally, with respect to gang laws, my take on it is this. We can and should have and enforce gang-related crimes laws because using that circumstantial evidence, and often more than circumstantial evidence, you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is a gang member.

More importantly, joining a gang is an act. It involves initiation and a conscious choice to do so.

Here's one other thing that I'd like to bring up - directed specifically at my co-editor, although anone can weigh in. You know me, you know I'm fond of taking contrarian positions just for fun. So, use any circumstantial evidence at your disposal and prove one way or another. Do I really oppose hate crimes legislation, or was I just taking a contrarian position to spark some controversy and drive traffic to AthPo?

Now use whatever evidence you have at your disposal and prove I'm a member of the Democratic Party. That's the difference between hate crimes laws and gang violence laws.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

-So is blowing away the black guy a "hate crime"?
Not so fast. What if the white guy is a reporter doing research on a book about hate groups? Still a hate crime?
What if the white guy is a racist, but he blew away the black guy because he walked in on the black guy in bed with his wife? Is that a hate crime?-

Maybe it’s a hate crime, maybe it isn’t. I think you’ve kinda set up a straw man here. If the other evidence that you suggest existed, the defense attorney would surely put it up, and there’s a strong chance a jury wouldn’t find it a hate crime. Or the judge might even grant a demurrer or a motion in limine on getting the hate crime evidence in, given the other evidence. I wasn’t suggesting any of the examples of evidence I gave “proved” a hate crime on their own, I was just giving examples of how it could be proven, the same way any other elements of a crime (many others of which have to do with state of mind rather than actions) are proven.

-The fact is, and I think most folks will agree (regardless of whether you support hate crimes laws or not), most crimes, 99.9% of crimes are committed for one of two reasons. Profit or hate.-

Most property crimes are obviously committed for profit. I would respectfully suggest that most violent crimes (the ones that don’t also involve profit) happen not because of hate, but rather because of some “heat of the moment” conflict, caused either by alcohol, drugs, a cheating wife, whatever. I would actually suggest that very few involve “hate” as I understand the word.

-The question I'd like to see an honest, well-reasoned answer to is this: Why is it somehow deemed worse to kill someone "because he's gay" (black, Muslim, whatever) than "because I've had enough of his crap"?-

Why is it worse? Because it’s systemic. Bar fights are gonna happen, and there’s not much we can do to stop it short of outlawing alcohol and bars. People are gonna cheat are their spouses, and the other spouse is gonna occasionally get up something and doing something bad. Again, not much you can do besides outlawing relationships.

But hate crimes, true hate crimes, involve, perhaps more than most other crimes, premeditation. Therefore (and this invokes a whole separate discussion, I guess, about the effectiveness of criminal punishments as deterrents, but I’ll save that for another day or perhaps your response if you wish), in theory at least, additional punishment as deterrence should be more effective.

But more importantly, it’s worse because of what it says. It’s not “I found my wife with another man, so I shot him.” It’s “he’s different, and I don’t think he should be allowed to live, so I’m gonna kill him.” That’s unacceptable in this society. I think we have a right as a society to say we find one more reprehensible than the other.

-can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is a gang member.-

You still haven’t convinced me that you can’t “prove” the hate crime element “beyond a reasonable doubt.” After all, that really is just legal jargon for “we’re pretty damn sure about it. Sure enough to send this guy to jail for a long time.”

-More importantly, joining a gang is an act. It involves initiation and a conscious choice to do so.-

Does one not make a “conscious choice” to the do the things that would create the evidence of a hate crime?

hillary said...

But more importantly, it’s worse because of what it says. It’s not “I found my wife with another man, so I shot him.” It’s “he’s different, and I don’t think he should be allowed to live, so I’m gonna kill him.” That’s unacceptable in this society. I think we have a right as a society to say we find one more reprehensible than the other.

I'm not sure it is worse. Perhaps the differences on this come from where one stands on the acceptability of murder.

Publius said...

Stand back kids, I'm about to introduce a whole host of hot button issues to make a point. Keep your eyes on the ball, k?

There is no question whatsoever that the hatred that manifests itself as intolerance is a huge societal evil (and I'm not using that lightly.) It's a major societal problem, and we need to do something about it, expecially when it leads to violence. I just don't think we're going to ever do that much about it through legislative action.

We have a tendency as a society to seize upon these major soceital problems, and think that we can "fix" them by passing a law.

You want less intolerant racist d-bags running around? Fantastic. Me too. But tacking a few extra years onto a sentence after the crime has been committed is a deterrent that is ineffective at best. At worst, it turns members of a particularly dangerous counterculture into martyrs for their "cause." Using punishment as the sole - or the primary - means of remedying a social ill is closing the barn door after the cow has escaped.

James Garland said...

Getting away from hate crimes and back to the question asked of me earlier, as far as I know, anyone could have attended the Chamber’s workshop just by showing up, so I have no concerns about detailing the program here. After a welcome by Thomas Lauth, Dean of UGA’s School of International and Public Affairs, the six presentations went in this order:

Defining Yourself as a Candidate
States McCarter (elected twice to the county commission as a Democrat)

Planning a Campaign
Robert Finch (worked for Charles Walker and ran for Congress as a Democrat)

Fundraising by John Padgett (area vice-chairman of the Georgia GOP)

Marketing Yourself
Brian Brodrick, Jeff Snowden, and Martin Matheny (Brian and Jeff worked on Republican Annette Nelson’s campaign for county commission two years ago, while Martin has worked for Doug Haines and several other Democrats)

Poll, Research, Strength
Charles Bullock of UGA’s poly sci department and Richard Clark of the Fanning Institute (as you would expect, neither gave any indication as to political leanings)

The Media
Jason Winders (editor), Jim Thompson (editorial editor), and Roger Nielsen (metro editor) of the Banner-Herald and Tim Bryant, news director of Southern Broadcasting (again as you would expect, none gave any indication as to political orientation)

In addition to me, Doug Lowery and Bill Cowsert were the announced candidates in attendance. Regarding that, while I feel free to comment on those who have announced, but don’t think it appropriate to spill the beans on anyone who hasn’t thrown their names out there yet, because they might not have been there as candidates.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

I don't feel strongly enough about this to keep debating ad nauseum (I was really arguing the other side of it because (1) I'm kinda on the fence; and (2) I feel like it's a closer issue than everyone was making it out to be at first, and I felt it deserved some debate), but I just want to wrap up by quickly responding to hillary and publius.

Hillary: we already make value judgments about different kinds of murder (although you may not support the way we do that either). If someone had sufficient provocation, we don't even call it murder, we call it voluntary manslaughter; but they still killed somebody. We have "aggravating factors" to make someone eligible for the death penalty or life w/o parole. One of these is when the crime was "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman in that it involved...depravity of mind". Seems to me that's basically saying "really bad." So the law already contemplates judging some murderers more harshly than others. This is just another way of doing that (incidentally, we've been discussing this in the context of murder, and that's as much my fault as anyone's, but I'm assuming the law applies to a host of crimes).

And Publius, are you going to tell me that the standard I mentioned above is clearer and easier to prove with evidence than the "hate" in a hate crime? I know, you're gonna say that you don't support the death penalty anyway. But think about it as a sentence enhancement only for a moment. Isn't it easier to prove somebody killed somebody out of hate than to prove that it was "horrible" and that they were "depraved"?

And I don't think it's fair to suggest that I have suggested we can solve the world's ills with this law. That's not true of any one law, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have them. Tacking on some extra years because someone robbed a liquor store with a gun doesn't get rid of the gun problem either, but are you saying that all armed robberies should be punished the same as non-armed ones? Deterrence is important, but so is punishment (perhaps we disagree on this).

That's all for me in this debate for the moment. Perhaps I'll take it up again later.

Anonymous said...

Thanks James on the Chamber stuff. Here's some more. It wasn't organized by their PAC. The PAC has only one job - raise money, raise money, raise money. They aren't looking for candidates but will funnel money to those that have common sense regarding growth and jobs. They'll wait and see which candidates announce and then see who has a pulse. Further, JMAC, the Chamber is indeed a business networking group as you stated, but as a member myself, if they aren't engaged in the politics of electing people to represent our community and my business with some fiscal restraints on taxes and fees, I'm not interested in them. I won't be in business much longer otherwise. It's like a revolving door around here. Fortson, Bentley and Griffin moves to Oconee. Board of Realtors moved to Oconee. LADD Trucking moves to Oconee. Athens First is expanding to Augusta cause they are tapped out here, etc. And all we got are a bunch of yahoos staying up til 3am in the morning voting on moratoriums, lighting ordinances, and other pressing matters.

hillary said...

Yeah. I guess I'm more of a fan of the mitigating factors than the aggravating ones. Soft on crime, yo!

Publius said...

Hillary...soft on crime, too liberal for Georgia.

My name is Publius, and I approve this comment.

(HHB - why are you not getting your poverty solving on right now?)

hillary said...

Because, along with McGinty, I decided that I was exhausted and had way too much stuff to do (a giant MS on somatization that has a deadline rapidly creeping up and needs to be proofed, for one thing) and that there would be a ton of people there. If attendance dwindles, I pledge to show up. And I'm sure it will and I will.

I'm a Realist said...

I know I'm late to the dance, but the "hate" crimes thing is wandering off-topic. Here is the real problem:

This legislation is like a bandaid that you put on a three-year-old regardless of what actually ails them. You tell them they should feel better, and they'll believe you as long as the bandaid is there.

This is trying to appease minority groups who feel "terrorized." It doesn't actually do anything, but sort of "pacifies the whining."

It doesn't actually differentiate between the levels of actions, but it differentiates between the levels of hatred...which is contained in one's thoughts. Someone who cuts up a victim - after post-mortem fornication - to combine them with a nice cream sauce and some penne is obviously "depraved of mind." Someone who merely shoots another because of the color of his skin is somehow worse than the first? Is it somehow more reasonable to believe that all blacks are "terrorized" because one whitey shot one African-American or that society as a whole has been terrorized by both actions equally? I think the latter, but hell...what do I know?