Bil Browning

To hate crime or not to hate crime...

Filed By Bil Browning | October 13, 2005 12:16 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement

A couple of kids in Bloomington tore down a rainbow flag hanging in front of a shop and burned it in their neighbor's back yard. The city representative's comments at the end of the story are somewhat comforting (and is more than Indianapolis can currently say!).

Don't you wonder how they're going to decide if it's a hate crime? The kids' comments are almost there, but not quite, it seems to me. "Unpatriotic" isn't the worst thing we've ever been called... I guess this is where my Libertarian streak comes out... I've never been a big fan of hate crimes anyhow - they've always seemed to me to be punishment for thinking or feeling something. And as far as I know, you're not supposed to get jail time for what you think - as long as you don't act on it. Once you act on it, then you get punished for the act. Not the thoughts or feelings. Hate crimes punish you for feeling/thinking hatefully. And "unpatriotic" just isn't that hateful.

Negative, yes. But not a hate crime.

What do you think?

The 17-year-old boys took the flag from outside of David Wade's culinary supply store, called Inner Chef, according to Bloomington police. Wade said the flag, called the "New Glory," shows that all Americans are welcome at his business.

A witness saw the boys take the flag and took a picture of their license plate with a cell phone camera. Police later tracked the plate and questioned the boys, who said they burned the flag because they felt it was "unpatriotic," police reports said.

Bloomington's Safe and Civil City Director Beverly Calender-Anderson said if there is a suspicion that the flag burning was a hate crime, the incident would get reported to the Human Rights Commission.

"We do value and honor the diversity in our city and do not condone discrimination or any kind of acts against people because of their sexual orientation, gender, race, class or anything else," she said.

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AUTHOR: Jerame Davis

DATE: 10/13/2005 06:01:30 AM

Well, it could be a hate crime. How is it "unpatriotic" unless you hate the group of people co-opting the symbol of the flag?I disagree with your characterization of hate crimes. When a murderer thinks about their crime beforehand, the punishment for this premeditated murder is more severe than a crime of passion or an accident. That's "punishment for thought" too if that is the standard. As well, malice is often considered in the punishment for crimes.

AUTHOR: Marla R. Stevens

DATE: 10/13/2005 11:06:30 AM

Thanks, Jerame, for explaining why hate crime laws do not punish words or thoughts. They punish actions and the words, as you pointed out, as with any other crime, are evidence of motive which is used to both distinguish between criminal and noncriminal behavior and severity of criminality. People are still free to hate and to express that hate in ways that do not violate other criminal laws. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that.Hate crimes are more serious than the base crime would be sans a hate motivator as the base crime is an attack on only the individual attacked, whereas a hate crime attacks the individual, the entire class of people to which the attacker believes -- rightly or wrongly -- the individual victim belongs, and the right of all of us to live and express ourselves freely within the bounds of lawful civility.As well, the violence of the crimes themselves is typically more serious -- i.e. murder is typically not done quickly but is marked by extreme violence such as torture or overkill, and, if the individual victim survives the attack, the psychological recovery has been established to take longer and be more painful than for non-bias-motivated crimes.While Indiana lawmakers have dealt with this in part by assessing greater penalties for torture and other hyper-violence, they've ignored that the heightened psychological damage exists across the entire range of bias crimes -- including the property crimes -- as all bias crimes have an element of at least implied threat of violence and coercion.They've also ignored that bias criminals, like serial killers, tend to begin with small crimes like vandalism and, if not dealt with early in their criminal careers in a direct manner specific to the reasons underlying their criminality, tend to escalate into increasing violence. In other words, sixteen-year-old hate vandals turn into twenty-five-year-old hate murderers sans early intervention.Under these circumstances, that Indiana does not treat these more severe crimes with comensurate criminal penalty severity because a majority of the state's policymakers share the opinions of the hate criminals ought to raise such extreme disgust in fair-minded Hoosiers that they replace these hate-co-criminals with people who both respect the humanity of all those they serve and put that respect into practice by passing hate crimes penalty legislation.Counting the crimes -- which too many Hoosier police agencies are not taking seriously to the point of being scofflaws themselves -- is just not enough.

AUTHOR: Marla R. Stevens

DATE: 10/13/2005 11:20:34 AM

Now, about this crime."Unpatriotic" here could well be a bias motivator if it is shorthand for "gay people are not to be tolerated in this country" in the manner that Nazis originally thought of deporting those they felt were undesireable.Certainly further investigation is needed but I'm betting that this wasn't about protecting the Stars and Stripes and that it was a statement about the expression of gay pride that the stolen property* stood for.It's just good public policy to establish that the way to handle such disagreements is not to try to quash the other side's speech, particularly in a criminal fashion -- that that would be unAmerican -- but to state your side more effectively.*Let's not forget that stealing the flag was a crime to begin with -- even if it was because they liked what the flag stood for and wanted it for themselves.