Monday, August 17, 2009

redefining hate crime

My mother has always condemned the very concept of hate crime legislation; not for a lack of sympathy with various minority groups, but because of her deeply held belief that all crime is an expression of hate. While this is a fair enough assertion, perhaps this article
will help reconcile her to the existence of these laws on the books.

Eric Lichtblau's August 7 New York Times piece notes that
With economic troubles pushing more people onto the streets in the last few years, law enforcement officials and researchers are seeing a surge in unprovoked attacks against the homeless, and a number of states are considering legislation to treat such assaults as hate crimes.

A report due out this weekend from the National Coalition for the Homeless documents a rise in violence over the last decade, with at least 880 unprovoked attacks against the homeless at the hands of nonhomeless people, including 244 fatalities.

“More and more, we’re hearing about homeless people being attacked for no other reason than that they’re homeless, and we’ve got to do something about it,” Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, Democrat of Texas, said in an interview.

“I hear the same rhetoric all the time,” Ms. Johnson said. “They ask, ‘Why is their life more important than anyone else’s?’”

In Portland, Ore., twin brothers were charged with five unprovoked attacks against homeless people in a park. One of the victims was a man beaten with his own bike, another a woman pushed down a steep staircase.

In Cleveland, a man leaving a homeless shelter to visit his mother was “savagely beaten by a group of thugs,” the police said.

In Los Angeles, a homeless man who was a neighborhood fixture was doused in gasoline and set on fire.

In Boston, a homeless Army veteran was beaten to death as witnesses near Faneuil Hall reportedly looked on.

And in Jacksonville, N.C., a group of young men fatally stabbed a homeless man behind a shopping strip, cutting open his abdomen with a beer bottle.
The intent behind hate crime legislation is that society's outliers are granted distinguished protection because they are especially vulnerable -- and the very nature of their identity creates a motive for criminal action where otherwise none would exist.

If these reforms were to take place, extending protection to those who are often the most despised among us would give them redress for assaults visited on them for the fault of being the least fortunate. And in the meantime, perhaps civil society could work on preventing the penury that make them such obvious targets in the first place.

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