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Hate Crimes in America – Objective Equal Justice or Subjective Social Justice?

“Is America at risk of devolving into a subjective social justice society that will replace the objective equal justice society the founders handed down to us and to which we must continually aspire if we are to maintain our liberty?”

Hate is a strong word, so I tend to reserve it only for extreme circumstances. And hate may be a tad too strong a description of my feelings on this issue. Still, I think the word is appropriate for this discussion, in part, because the proponents of a politically tinged form of legislation decided to use it. So, I’ll just say it: I hate “hate crimes.”

I’m not sure I’ve completely settled on this issue, but it’s sure got me wondering about a lot of things. But first, I suppose my hate is more directed toward the political impulse that affects the people responsible for creating and promoting a category of laws called hate crimes. If you dissect this potent phrase, you’ll find, literally, that the emotion hate precedes the action crime.

Hate is an emotion, a sentiment—in essence, a thought, right? When the government specifically uses the left’s interpretation of a suspect’s thoughts to increase legal penalties, doesn’t that make the hate portion of the enhanced criminal charges primarily a thought crime?

Of course, thoughts apply to a suspect’s motive for committing a crime. But should a person’s ostensible hate go toward enhancing legal policies, procedures, laws, and penalties applied against criminal defendants explicitly because their victim happens to be a member of a government-sanctioned identity group?

If you’re of Japanese descent and I kick you in the shin because I don’t like Asian people, it’s a hate crime. However, if you have blue eyes and I kick you in the shin because I don’t like blue-eyed people, it’s a simple assault. Does this make sense if our legal system is truly committed to equal justice?

Domestic violence (DV), for example, is a form of hate crime in which policies, procedures, and penalties are enhanced against a suspect due to his or her relationship with the victim. These include connections such as marriage, sibling, parent, offspring, dating, residing, and other DV relationships that link the suspect and victim.

Remarkably, in the UK today, if you express unfriendliness toward Sharia law or express a dislike of radical Islam, you could find yourself eating beans on toast and sipping Builder’s tea in a British pokey.

I once investigated a very minor assault between a father and son with no reported or visible injuries. Neither wanted to file a police complaint. Only witnesses provided any details, which indicated the son had pushed the father—technically, an assault… DV assault—during a minor argument.

We arrested the son exclusively due to the biological relationship with his father. If there were no DV, there would have been no arrest. And, like Paul Harvey says, here is the rest of the story: this was the first time the father and 20-year-old son had ever met. Related by blood as parent-child, yes, which made the relationship DV. But, in reality, they were complete strangers.

In some jurisdictions, officers can be held personally liable if they fail to make an arrest at a DV incident with a qualifying assault or threat (standards can be very low; in my agency, a victim’s complaint of pain qualified for the suspect’s arrest).

Does this sound like equal justice under the law? Hate crimes work similarly to DV, but for these crimes, it’s only the victim’s “identity category” and the suspect’s thoughts when committing the crime that matter.

If I slap you in the face, but you’re just an average schlub, prosecutors could only charge me with a simple assault with minimal consequences. However, if I walk up to an individual whose identity falls into a social justice-approved, government-ordained victim group and I slap him because I feel he’s a filthy blankety-blank, the prosecutor can charge me with a hate crime, which carries more serious consequences.

Are we creating a two-tiered justice system, treating people differently for committing comparable criminal acts? Hey, that sounds an awful lot like social justice. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Both slaps hurt equally, so the injuries (transient pain) are identical, but with the second victim, because of my thoughts at the time—my hate—government deems that “special” victim more valuable to society than you are. Does this strike you as fair in a criminal justice system supposedly based on equal justice?

I’m not saying I have any sympathy for any criminal over any victim. In fact, let’s enhance the penalties on anyone guilty of assault. Physical violence against anybody without legitimate provocation, such as in self-defense, should never be acceptable in a society based on the rule of law.

And now, physical violence isn’t even necessary to be charged with a hate crime. Western societies, traditional defenders of free speech, are increasingly turning “hate speech” into “hate crimes.” An article by Robert Spencer notes that in England, statutes require that a so-called hate crime be driven by “hostility.” Because the police and courts have no working, legal definition for “hostility,” UK police forces refer people to dictionary definitions, which include terms such as “unfriendliness” and “dislike.”

Anyone else see the potential avalanche of abuse poised on a precipice ready to come crashing down on free speech? Remarkably, in the UK today, if you express unfriendliness toward Sharia law or express a dislike of radical Islam, you could find yourself eating beans on toast and sipping Builder’s tea in a British pokey.

How long before that notion begins to infect America? Perhaps it’s already happening. In an article by George Lakoff, he seems to argue that because “hate speech” can make a person feel bad, psychologically, that makes it a physical attack. I must say, I have to salute the cerebral gymnastics necessary to contort the issue in such a manner. Wow!

I understand the attraction to this type of law-making. Aside from those who use hate crime legislation exclusively for political gain, the concept can seem commendable. Supporters are attempting to protect victims from criminals, which I’m all for. But with hate crime legislation proliferation, is society losing sight of the proverbial bigger picture? Is America at risk of devolving into a subjective social justice society that will replace the objective equal justice society the founders handed down to us and to which we must continually aspire if we are to maintain our liberty?

Some may argue that there has always been the equivalent of hate crimes in the form of sentencing enhancements for criminals who target children, the elderly, the mentally ill, or even police officers (while on duty). But I’d argue these situations are markedly different because these examples are a matter of an individual’s special condition and not just a matter of belonging to a designated racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, or other identity class.

Children, the elderly, and mentally ill folks are largely weak and exploitable—less able to protect themselves. Police officers function as the sword arm of society. When a criminal assaults a police officer, he or she is not only accosting that human being in uniform but also attacking civil society.

“Are we creating a two-tiered justice system, treating people differently for committing comparable criminal acts?”

Speaking of cops, it’s interesting that some pro-cop groups have suggested adding off-duty police officers to the list of government-approved hate crime victim categories. Rather than only on-duty, this law would enhance penalties against criminals who physically assault off-duty police officers specifically because they are cops. Funny, not much support from the left for including law enforcement officers in this particular social justice experiment. Then again, consistency is not their strong suit. After all, how can you make it a hate crime to assault a group of people they hate?

Hate crime legislation is also a leftist trap that even independents and some on the right can get caught in. As with everything else the left conflates, if you don’t support a specific hate crime legislation that they do, then you must hate the people (identity group) they’re trying to “protect.” See? No wonder these groups need legislation to protect them.

Why is equal justice and free speech so important to the left until it’s not? Hasn’t America’s civil rights fight been for equal justice? Isn’t that what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently spoke in support of, fought for, and ultimately died trying to achieve?

Why are his words in support of equal justice no longer resonating with the left? Are we Americans abdicating our responsibility, as MLK’s principled progeny, to continue the fight for true equal justice for all? Or, are we going to allow a system that officially sanctions more justice for some and less for others? I hope not, because I’d hate that. Wouldn’t you?

Next up, another aspect of thought crimes. Should Americans be forced by their government to violate their religions or conscience?

Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens Contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including Is There a Problem, Officer? and the upcoming De-Policing: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. He served as a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and as a precinct mountain bike coordinator. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys riding his Harley and hiking and cycling with his wife who is also an English major as well as a retired firefighter.

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