Yasmin Nair

Why Hate Crimes Legislation Is Still Not a Solution

Filed By Yasmin Nair | April 29, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Crissy Lee Polis, hate crimes legislation, Maryland, McDonalds, transgender

The brutal assault on Crissy Lee Polis in a Maryland McDonald's has led to a long attack.pngand sustained conversation here and elsewhere about how best to seek solutions to the ongoing problem of harassment and violence inflicted upon trans and queer-identified folk.

The immediate response from many in the LGBTQ community has been to demand that this be treated as a hate crime. Equality Maryland has already made a public statement to that effect, and Polis herself has insisted that it is one.

There can be no doubt as to the viciousness of the crime, but is using the mechanism of hate crimes legislation really the answer to preventing such incidents? I've written, in various pieces on The Bilerico Project and elsewhere about the dangers of hate crimes legislation (HCL), and the new book, Queering (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States details the many problems with HCL. Among them: the prison industrial complex already unfairly targets people of color, queer, and gender-non-conforming people for incarceration. Those picked up via HCL are disproportionately people of color and economically disenfranchised. Furthermore, hate crimes legislation does little to nothing to actually discourage crime.

Two groups I work closely with, Against Equality and Gender JUST, have always had strong statements against HCL. At AE, we believe that "...measures like hate crimes legislation and the increased policing of 'our' neighborhoods puts the most vulnerable among us in jail for perpetuity, and it makes the oppressive structures of prison a more insidious part of our lives instead of dismantling them." Gender JUST believes "in community alternatives to hate crimes legislation and opposes all policies which rely on the Prison Industrial Complex, which is inherently racist and heterosexist."

Several other organizations have been or are coming out against HCL. A recent Colorlines piece by Jamila King, titled "Weighing Solutions to Hate Crime After Brutal Baltimore Attack," is about the Sylvia Rivera Law Project's stance on HCL.

Here in Chicago, the Transformative Justice Law Project clearly declares itself an organization devoted to prison abolition and transformative justice, along with gender self-determination. The first two positions in particular are antithetical to the principles of HCL.

In New York, the Audre Lorde Project did not support the 2009 Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Act because it contained an attachment to HCL and said as much in a widely circulated letter on the issue, co-signed by Queers for Economic Justice, SRLP, FIERCE, and The Peter Cicchino Youth Project.

Black and Pink released a compilation of critiques of HCL which is an especially useful reminder of the problems with assuming that the prison industrial complex can actually be of any help to those already most violently affected by it.

Every one of these groups works with and includes gender non-conforming, trans, and/or queer people, and fully understands the extent of the violence to its members, so it's especially significant that they have taken such strong positions on the matter. On the streets of cities like Chicago or in small-town USA, queer and gender-non-conforming people without the economic safety nets and invisibility granted by middle or upper class status are the most likely to be targeted by the PIC for made-up crimes like "loitering," and "intent." As Queer (In)Justice amply demonstrates, when it's the word of a person of color against a white gay man in a "hate crime," the POC is the one most likely to be charged and indicted. Why should we queers trust that such a deeply racist and classist system will actually be of any help to us?

The violence against Polis was a hateful, vicious, and brutal crime for which there can be no excuse. But there are already legal remedies in place for such crimes: there are punishments for brutality and for murder. To assume that extended penalties and/or the death penalty - often invoked as a threat, often a punishment that can come directly into play in such cases - will end violence is to assume that its perpetrators have some kind of narrative in place as they set about maiming and killing us.

Instead, it makes more sense to come to terms with a difficult fact: that the hatred against queer and gender-non-conforming people which incites such brutality is about a deep-seated hatred of the overturning of codes and performances to which people are strangely and deeply cathected, and it's a hatred that flares up without meaning or the comfort of narrative and deep-seated intention. It's true that kind of hatred sometimes becomes an excuse for violence: "I was so deeply disturbed that I couldn't help but beat/kill him/her."

But HCL only presents a way for us to forget that the senseless violence of which we are constantly made aware is exactly that: senseless and brutal. In the end, HCL grants us nothing more than the cold comfort of extended prison sentences or death - in effect, extending the very violence that we claim to abhor.

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Seriously? There were already laws to protect transgender and transsexual folks from hate? This is a tired argument that is usually used by those that want to commit hate crimes against us. If there were laws that already covered this then why did the President of the United States sign a hate crime law? Why? Because it wasn't covered.

There is a huge difference between an assault that happened due to an argument and one that happened because of how someone looks. I know that this law will not 'protect', directly, those of us who needs it but it will make people think twice before they assault me because I am transsexual. And justice will be served by them spending another decade in prison for it.

No - I wrote that there are already laws against the violence committed in these crimes. There can be no laws against hate because you can't legislate against an emotion.

The fact that the President of the US signed a hate crimes law only means that he's colluding with the prison industrial complex and scoring easy points with those who are pushing for HCL. Presidents regularly sign all kinds of problematic laws into effect - including ones that push us to engage in unjust wars, for instance. Surely, by now, we understand that a Presidential seal is hardly a sign of justice.

As the many sources I've indicated above amply prove, there's plenty of evidence that HCL does not deter crime but is used against the already marginalised amongst us, and that those most likely to be incarcerated/penalised by it are also themselves gender-queer, gender-non-conforming, people of colour and the most economically marginalised.

But the racism, classism, heterosexism and cissexism in law enforcement is not a function of HCL and isn't caused by it. It's already there, and opposing HCL won't make it go away, so I don't see how that's a valid argument against HCL.

I agree. People already attack and kill us because they think they can get away with it.

The idea that people opposed GENDA because of HCL disgusts me; it's putting priority on violent attackers over people who are trying to get jobs and homes.

Jay Kallio | April 29, 2011 8:54 AM

Personally, I never thought of hate crime legislation as anything but a useful stepping stone to try to put an end to lynchings, targeting of minorities where entire bigoted communities would conspire to destroy vulnerable people. I have a personal bias in this issue, having been persecuted, repeatedly assaulted, and nearly blinded by the KKK as a teenager. I fought for hate crime laws with the hope that someday they would have outlasted their usefulness, which is simply as a tool to raise public awareness that hate based on bigotry will not be accepted or ignored, and will carry huge penalties. If hate crime laws have prevented the victimization of innocent people, I am very glad we worked so hard to get them on the books. It is hard to calculate how many crimes have not happened because they were a deterrent.

I don't see how rolling back the hate crimes legislation that so many of us who have been assaulted and maimed fought and sacrificed for years to win is going to remedy the problem that imprisoning people is profitable for privatized prison facilities. It doesn't address the real problem. They need to keep prisons full, because they are being paid per capita. Their overhead stays the same, so they need every cell full to make money. Ugly truth.

Privatization of public services is the problem, which causes unfair levels of imprisonment of vulnerable people, as well as refusal to provide health care services to the poor, financing of horrific weapons of war, etc. It is an across the board problem that might be partially remedied by going to the source: campaign finance regulations that allow the rich to buy our government and subvert democracy, and make money by contracting their profiteering services wherever they can get away with it. We will not see any change until we have restricted public financing of political campaigns. Then we can get our prison system, health care system, defense department, etc., into reasonable condition that actually serves the public good, not the profits of huge corporations.

My concern with your analysis is that since rolling back hate crime legislation will not in any way affect the profit incentive to incarcerate people, they will simply use other laws to disproportionately incarcerate people. I'm certain they will be very flexible about how to pursue their profits. We gain nothing, we simply lose a tool that might sometimes be beneficial.

Of course the problem of preventing hate crimes is far more complex than that as well, and has to do with human compassion, respect, understanding, and love for each other, which is clearly lacking. Those are long term problems that I doubt any of us has a simple answer to. We can continue to search for answers, but until humanity evolves into more loving states, we rely on measures such as hate crime laws that are blunt instruments that can certainly be misused.

Yasmin you make the assertion that Polis herself insisted this was a hate crime. I haven't seen that. Please point me to where she claims it is a hate crime. In her first statement I thought she claimed exactly the opposite.

Jay Kallio | April 29, 2011 9:17 AM

@Deena Many news articles quote Chrissy Polis saying it was a hate crime. Her initial statement was that it was not a race based hate crime, which many in law enforcement and the media were claiming it might be. Chrissy said it was a hate crime based on her being transgender.

Thanks Jay. I just haven't seen such. I guess I'll google for a while. I was hoping for a link to an article that had a direct quote or better still a video of her speaking since newspapers are notorious for mis-quotes.

Jay Kallio | April 29, 2011 9:49 AM

Yes, and her brother was telling reporters how terribly she was being abused in her community. I knew you would find one right away, there were so many. I feel terrible about all she has gone through.

I wish there were some kind of law that would put and end to this kind of assault. No such luck.


The link is in my piece.

I cannot agree with the argument that certain crimes "need to" be less harshly punished because they are disproportionately committed by people of color. As applied here, you're basically saying that the interests of criminals of color outweigh the lives of innocent trans people.

I think Yasmin meant that POC and other marginalized groups are disproportionally charged with such crimes, not that they disproportionally commit them. Which would still be irrelevant because that's true of all law enforcement, not just HCL.

"...certain crimes "need to" be less harshly punished because they are disproportionately committed by people of color." Who even said/wrote that? To point to the fact that the criminal legal system disproportionately affects people of colour is not to argue that crimes ought to be less harshly punished. I don't even know where you get that.

And...trans people are not people of colour?

We already know that trans people, especially those of colour, for instance, are disproportionately targeted by "law enforcement." Ask the trans youth in Chicago's Boystown. As for "criminals" - queers, of all people, ought to remember that we are the ones most readily targeted for being criminals and "illegals." Our sex lives are still surveilled - witness the still ongoing raids on gay bars. And as for "criminal" behaviour, it seems unfair to first force trans/queer folk into situations where they do sex work on the street, for instance, to survive in incredibly dangerous situations, and then blame them when they get picked up on the street by cops already looking for the easy targets.

That's not even getting into the issue of whether or not sex work ought to be criminalised (and I don't believe it should be).

Please, people, I have to ask that you at least read the piece carefully before making these assertions.

The solution to cops unfairly enforcing the law is not to stop having laws.

It's not the cops, it's the system which decides that "vagrants" and such are defined in particular ways and need to be picked up. The "bad apples" theory of police brutality ignores the systemic violence of the PIC.

As for laws: we would do well, first of all, to consider what these "laws" are whose interests are served by them. Not too long ago, it was against the law for women in Chicago to wear front-fly trousers. And for queers to fuck each other in their own bedrooms. We have always been critical of the "law and order" system - and, again, why are we ignoring the fact that these laws disproportionately target the most vulnerable among us?

We can't conveniently choose which laws to support and which not to support - the point of critiquing hate crime laws is not to say that everyone is now allowed to engage in queer-bashing. But, again, queers support the reach of the PIC at their own cost.

Um, yes we CAN choose which laws we want to support. That's how legislation works. Laws that gave no purpose other than to attack marginalized groups are vile and should be dismantled. But you haven't presented any evidence or reasoning that HCL is different from any other law that could be unfairly enforced. One can easily show that sodomy laws (and other such laws) are only to persecute; that's how such laws were struck down in the courts. But you haven't shown that HCL does that any more than any other legislation; in fact, since the whole purpose of such legislation is to discourage persecution that makes your argument that much weaker.


Can you show me proof that HCL has actually prevented such crimes? On the other hand, Queer (In)Justice and groups like ALP have shown that HCL disproportionately affects the most marginal among us.


Can you show me that HCL disproportionally affects marginalized groups more than any other laws? Because if doesn't, then that entire line of reasoning is bunk.

We're talking about HCL here, not other laws, so your question is a red herring. And you keep avoiding the central issue - that such laws are designed to provide a quick, cheap, and dirty way to sweep up those already considered too marginal to count.
Have a good day, Sas.

Oh, one more for the road.

In this thread, even as close as a few comments up, you brought up sodomy laws and cross-dressing laws to support your point, but when I do the same it's a red herring. Further, you claim I avoided the point when several times I've said that I acknowledge the point of the systemic bigotry in the justice system, but that you yourself have ignored my point that you can't use that as an argument against HCL since it is a problem CAUSED by the justice system itself, not HCL spacifically.

You have a good day tooo! xoxoxo

I want to take a moment and remind some of the younger people why hate crime laws were put into place. Hate crimes are different from interpersonal assaults. They are not an attack on one person, they are an attack on entire groups and communities of people, committed with the intention of intimidating and striking terror into those groups.

A hate crime is a crime that injures an entire group, not just one individual, by instilling terror and despair on an entire oppressed community. The end result; our being terrified to go out, withdrawing from life, being risk averse when the only way to grow and get ahead in life is to take the risks and face challenges – this is what is so life destroying about bigotry and hate. The true hate crimes may be relatively rare, but their cumulative impact of diminishing so many lives is tremendous. Our entire world is made less by the loss of so much talent, energy, and the inspiration of actively participating, loving people. That is what Hate Crime Law seek to deter. The entire community watches and sees justice being done, and breathes a sigh of relief, that the world will be a safe place to travel tomorrow. That is the goal.

We all need each other, and we need each other whole.

A hate crime is a crime that injures an entire group, not just one individual, by instilling terror and despair on an entire oppressed community. The end result; our being terrified to go out, withdrawing from life, being risk averse when the only way to grow and get ahead in life is to take the risks and face challenges – this is what is so life destroying about bigotry and hate.

This is actually why I oppose hate crimes enhanced sentencing laws. Hate crimes are nothing less than domestic terrorism, and should be punished as such.

@Desiree I love the way you put that. :)

The definition of terrorism is "using violence or the threat of violence to coerce others in pursuit of political or social objectives." Hate crimes self-evidently fall within that definition; the only reason they're not charged as such is then we'd have too many white terrorists.

The problem with defining hate crimes as "domestic terrrorism" is that it ignores the many ways in which "terrorism" is itself a fraught notion - which we already know, or should know post-9/11. Using words like "terrorism" is a cheap and easy way to rouse sympathy, but it perpetuates exactly the kind of criminalisation that affects the most marginal.
Many, many innocent people have been caught up in the web of "anti-terrorism" laws, or have had their infractions/crimes inflated with shockingly high penalties. The same is true of hate crime laws, which needlessly expand penalties for crimes for which we already have punishments on the books.
I never cease to be amazed at the extent to which the LGBTQ community jumps on the bandwagon of the prison industrial complex and a legal system that has, historically, sought to punish and even obliterate our own lives.

Supporting HCL does not mean that one does not also recognize the legitimate problems with law enforcement. Opposing HCL isn't going to make those problems go away, either.

First, the issues with the prison industrial complex are not the only reasons to not support HCL, as the post clearly points out.

HCL does not and will not prevent hate in the first place. There is no conclusive evidence to prove that someone might have not committed violence - itself often a complicated matter which involves more than one reason - because of the fear of HCL. On the other hand, as many of the above sources indicate, there is a great deal of evidence that HCL only perpetuates the PIC and disproportionately targets the poor, people of colour, and the gender-queer/gender non-conforming.

That last reason alone should be reason enough for the LGBTQ community to be suspicious of HCL. Gay Inc. has a vested interest in HCL because it relies on the construction of "gays and lesbians" as overly white and/or middle to upper class who, supposedly, do not commit "crimes."

I was not addressing the other points in the post, I was addressing your comment "I never cease to be amazed at the extent to which the LGBTQ community jumps on the bandwagon of the prison industrial complex and a legal system that has, historically, sought to punish and even obliterate our own lives." Please don't pull a bait and switch.

That comment on it's own is a baseless appeal to emotion because it implies people who support HCL have not also considered the problems with bigotry in the legal system. That's simply not true; recognizing that the legal system is messed up in a lot of ways does not require one to conclude that laws should not be made.

Claiming that HCL depends on framing all victims as innocent whites is just speculative and emotive.

It's not emotive to point to the realities of how HCL operates, and which communities most profit from its enforcement. And saying that this is "claiming that HCL depends on framing all victims as innocent whites is just speculative and emotive" is in fact a deliberate mischaracterisation of critiques of HCL.

Yasmin. I'm not mischaracterizing it. Because you just said that. In the very comment I was replying to: "Gay Inc. has a vested interest in HCL because it relies on the construction of "gays and lesbians" as overly white and/or middle to upper class who, supposedly, do not commit "crimes.""

"It relies on the construction of "gays and lesbians" as overly white and/or middle to upper class who, supposedly, do not commit "crimes."" is as clear a way as I have of pointing out that, yes, this is a construction. Which is to say, Gay Inc. wants everyone to believe that all queers are white/middle-upper-class gays and lesbians who would never commit crimes but are only vulnerable to crimes. That *construction* enables mainstream society and much of the LGBTQ community to ignore the fact that a lot of "criminals" in fact come from within the LGBTQ community and it allows us to further the very same punitive system which entraps so many of us.
Which is to say: HCL relies on the fiction that there are no poor people of colour, or people who perform "criminal" acts amongst us (and I mean here to be cynical about how we define "criminal). It allows everyone to forget that poorer queers, for instance, are the most easily targeted by the systemic racism, classism and queerphobia of the criminal legal system.

I can't be any clearer about the distinctions between constructions of identity and the realities thereof. Please read my post carefully before making any more statements.

Ive read your post and replies carefully and insinuating that I haven't just because I disagree is a good enough reason for me to stop engaging you. Thanks!

Seems to me then (within Jay's and Desiree's definitions) that the cat fight which resulted from the BF approaching Chrissy was not the hate crime but the publishing of the video and the remarks of the employee fit the bill. And even further more all the focus on the web heightens rather than reduces the fear. Perhaps I'm looking at this all wrong.

Referring to that as "a cat fight" is truly offensive. You should be ashamed of yourself. :(

Ashamed of what? Google the term. Its a fight between women typically involving such things as hair pulling, slapping and cursing. Check wikipedia, websters, dictionary.dom or whatever other sources you use for educational efforts. As far as I can tell this one was set off by Chrissy being approached by the BF of one of the attackers. He was probably offering to buy her a hamburger so she could pee within the dictates of management. I'm really curious what he said to Chrissy but no one seems to know. Whatever it was inflamed the man's GF and her friend. I suspect there is some history between all four. If my BF approached someone else I would either leave and find someone else or compliment him for trying to help the lady depending on what he was actually trying to accomplish.

But whatever the case it seems to me that we don't have all the facts.

Let's see, they kicked her in the head multiple times... had that resulted in permanent brain damage would that be "a cat fight?" Nice way to try and minimize the attack. Moreover, you have NO idea what the boyfriend said to her so stop making up crap.

Gina this is not about you or me and I am not trying to minimize anything. You took offense to a term I used. Perhaps your command of the English language is far superior to mine and you understand the term catfight to mean something other than what the dictionaries define. Let's agree that neither you nor I was present to witness everything that took place and even had we been that doesn't insure we would share outlooks on the true cause of the situation.

I try to avoid jumping to conclusions based on partial information. Chrissy has made some statements to the press and meanwhile I can assure you the police have taken statements from everyone involved. I am not privy to that information. Perhaps the police are biased. There is much we do not know. My impression is that we are dealing with a couple of gutter snips in the case of the attackers but maybe not. I find it sad, however, that so many would condemn anyone based on a video of a fight where the one who was attacked has openly admitted to cornering one of the other girls and punching her before the video even began. She characterized that as defensive and that sounds reasonable. The point is once again impressions from partial knowledge.

Quite frankly if you want me to be blunt I think this whole event involves a bunch of uneducated low class idiots bar none. And frankly Gina you can get all worked up about my opinion and have a wonderful snit if you are so inclined and it won't bother me in the least.

Om Kalthoum | April 30, 2011 8:40 PM

Yeah. There's so much we simply don't have access to. And for better or worse, I tend to go way to the other side when I see the hoi polloi come out en masse all singing the same song and all having come to the same conclusion based on squat. That's what happened within hours of this story breaking.

Now that this thread has died down, I'll drop in one thing that I've been reluctant to raise in the past days. Perhaps no one will see it and get pissed off. LOL. My view of this event has been somewhat colored by Polis's arrest record. When I compared hers to that of the other adult in this fracas, well, guess who's rap sheet was longer? Yeah, Polis. At least for crimes in Maryland and as an adult. Anything as a juvenile for any of them wouldn't be public. And I didn't bother to search other states.

Anyway, raise something like this about the person who got the worst of it and the online lot tend to go nuts, but they have no problem making a point of decrying the adult attacker's prior arrest.

Just because I feel sympathy for Chrissie doesn't mean I know what the full story is here by a long shot.

There still need to be ways to deal with real assaults and terrorism, Yasmin. We tried life without laws, government, and other means to rein in violence and injustice, and the end result is that we need them, as imperfect as the system is. You cannot just start labeling things "cheap sympathy" regarding the victims of grotesque violence. I reject that kind of manipulative characterization. We will have to agree to disagree. I don't accept your reasoning, nor do I accept throwing out meaningful legislation with no effective substitute.

I also resent you characterizing your commenters, as "jumping on a bandwagon" in terms of our position, as though that were some frivolous and expedient position to take. I did not ask the KKK to beat and try to blind me. Nor did my LGBT loved ones invite the stabbings, head bashings with baseball bats, sexual assaults, and other horrors they have been subjected to.

We are thoughtful, caring people who designed and fought many years for remedies to this kind of oppressive bigotry. We had no protections back then, and now we have a few, that's about all we have gained.

To say that we are somehow jumping on a bandwagon of the prison industrial complex is simply flat out wrong. We are saying that your recommendation doesn't make any sense, because it doesn't address the real problem - the profiteering privatization of the prison system that chews people up like carnage. Remove the profit motive, the incentive to imprison as many as possible, and maybe the problem will abate. One law more or less is not going to make any difference.

Sorry you don't agree, but I have to leave it there. This conversation is starting to feel disrespectful to me.

"We tried life without laws, government, and other means to rein in violence and injustice, and the end result is that we need them, as imperfect as the system is." What period of history and in what region did this happen?

"The Law" is not a single set of injunctions handed down in an unchanging and immutable form by some higher power - it's a system that gets reworked and changed constantly.

As for "meaningful legislation with no effective substitute," there is no evidence that this legislation is meaningful and the groups noted above have worked on effective substitutes, which include preemptive measures that strengthen communities and restorative justice, as opposed to the quick and easy "solution" of meaningless and violent incarceration.

The PIC is not going to go away simply by reducing or eliminating the profit motive when it is also sustained by racism, classism, and a deep-seated queerphobia.

I think I've addressed all the arguments here, and this is beginning to feel like I'm simply repeating the points I've already made. I encourage visitors to this post to check out the links above and see what alternatives already exist.

"What period of history and in what region did this happen?" - Yasmin

From living in caves to the present day. Without laws, we are all left with the brutality of "might makes right". I don't want that, but know there remain many who still do. Like the Bush administration, who went about creating their own "reality" with the use of sheer "shock and awe" force. No, I prefer to labor under the yoke of imperfect laws, knowing that I, too, could be cut down by their many injustices as well, while doing the long, tedious work of changing the hearts and minds, along with preserving people's lives and well being from attacks on all levels, especially those based in bigotry.

I most appreciate when law and order is created in a respectful, honoring, egalitarian, nuanced, compassionate way, and I bow in acknowledgment that it rarely works that way, but I must also bow to the reality that in spite of it's clumsy, often brutal and grossly inaccurate application and outcomes, law is still a necessary component to have justice prevail. Social justice is a wide arc, and I think we have taken a thoughtful risk in advocating for HCL, and that they are a step in the right direction. Like any other law, they can be misapplied. No argument there.

I would really need to see some analysis that is comprehensive and reality based in order to be convinced that rolling back laws that provide meaningful recourse for the victims of hate crimes, BOTH the actual victim, and the group being targeted by those hate crimes, is warranted.

I have always entertained qualms about the fairness of hate crime laws, but not on the basis you are discussing, because I don't think your analysis is valid. I have always questioned whether longer sentences for certain crimes are valid, and only in cases like these examples, where the magnitude of the damage extends far beyond the individual victim can I see some validity to creating a greater penalty. I have always hoped that Hate Crime Laws would outlive their usefulness, and become moot, as society reinforces the idea that it is not OK to assault, maim, or murder someone for who they are. A steppingstone to a better way, to be discarded when no longer needed.

Just as a personal note; I want you to understand that for me this is not some intellectual exercise. I have been a volunteer first responder all my adult life until totally disabled, and I have been a hate crime victim, and also seen, held, and tended to hate crime victims of many types. With my hands covered in their blood, ears full of screams and moans of pain, and heart stricken by the grief of unspeakable loss in families and those who love the victims who were murdered, this is not just a statistical issue for me. This is concrete reality, which has made a tremendous impact on me. I would go very far to prevent these crimes, but do not know any way to do so with any certainty. Once someone is maimed or murdered it cannot be undone, but there is sometimes an emotional healing that takes place when an effort toward justice can be offered, to the limit of what is possible by human hands. That is important, and I know I am not alone in believing so.

I think we all agree more than we think we do. Hate crimes terrorize entire communities (and yes, Yasmin, while "terrorize" has become post-9/11 jargon, I think this use is appropriate), and we want to prevent them.

I remember getting an anti-gay threatening letter in my locker in high school, bringing it in to the principal, and him telling me that since I didn't know who wrote the note, he couldn't do anything, since he didn't have anyone to punish. I feel like HCL is a similar conversation on a larger level.

What would it look like if we talked about prevention instead of punishment ("enhanced" or not)? Regardless of one's position on HCL, what can we do BESIDES HCL to prevent hate crimes? Is it a matter of including the queer community in history courses, as California is proposing to do? Is it a matter of advertising, as has been discussed here recently?

Similarly, regardless of one's position on HCL, what can we do to help victims of hate crimes like Polis? What community infrastructure can we (or have we already) put into place so as to not reinvent the wheel with each new incident?

If I felt like we had more answers to these questions, I would be more comfortable rolling back HCL, which I agree gives too much power to a profit-driven and unproductively punitive prison-industrial complex.


I said that "terrorism" is a loaded term, not "terrorise." "Terrorism" and "domestic terrorism" are phrases that push our post-9/11 buttons, and they shut down community discussions on issues of violence by using the logic of "with us or against us" and by exploiting our worst fears.

And I agree that we need more solutions than what we've got, but HCL, as you point out, is more damaging to us in the short and long term.

Ouch! Talk about "shutting down community discussions"! It doesn't seem like you welcome other voices in this thread. It really is possible for one than one person to be "right" here. Perhaps more people would chime in with suggestions on how to prevent/deal with hate crmes outside of HCL if it seems like a real dialogue was permissible here. I consider myself your friend and a great admirer of your work, but there is an anger and a defensiveness here that I am not understanding.


Not sure where you get anger and defensiveness or a shutting down of community discussions, since I actually agree with you here, which was why I wrote, "And I agree that we need more solutions than what we've got, but HCL, as you point out, is more damaging to us in the short and long term."
I was merely clarifying my point about "terrorism," which is a vastly differently loaded term than "terrorise." Perhaps the "but" seemed confusing - it was meant to mirror what you said, though.
A larger comment for all: If I respond, I'm accused of shutting down dialogue simply because I clarify points, made by folks who aren't really even reading either the post or my comments carefully enough. So, I'll respectfully leave everyone else to have a discussion amongst themselves here. Meanwhile, Jillian Weiss has also opened up this discussion in a new post,http://www.bilerico.com/2011/04/why_hate_crimes_charges_are_appropriate_in_the_bea.php
and I encourage everyone to check that one out and chime in and discuss the matter there as well. In terms of virtual, online discussions, TBP may be the only place where people are actually getting a) the perspective of dissent around hate crime laws and b)an actual discussion of any sorts (some of the comments below are mere attempts at flame wars, but putting those aside, I will say this for the rest: even if I don't agree with everyone, I think there are some very critical points being raised on all sides - and it's time we started having a conversation on this topic instead of uncritically assuming that hate crimes legislation is the way to go.

That being said, there is no substitute for real, live discussion and real, live political engagement, and my main purpose was to provide information on an anti-hate crime-legislation perspective that is often made invisible. More importantly, I strongly recommend that folks check out the links to the groups and organisations I've provided above and, if you have questions or doubts, get in touch with people who are at least asking questions of the sort being asked here and see where we can go from here. And organise in real time.

As for more on the prison system, I would add Critical Resistance (I'll add that in my blog), which has been doing really important work around prison abolition - check to see if there's a chapter in your area.

And look for more on this topic and on my blog!

I don't see anger here. When Yasmin's angry, people know it. She just calmly explained her preference on words. Turning it into a personal issue and labeling Yasmin as "angry" just for having a different opinion is is a dialogue-stopper.

Brad Bailey | April 29, 2011 1:18 PM

I visited the Gender JUST website to learn more about its alternatives to HCL. All it said was that they were still working on a forum and tool kit, and listed an email address for more info.

The other websites you gave talked a lot about the problems of HCL, but didn't list any alternatives that I could find.

Do you have any other links discussing HCL alternatives?

Kathy Padilla | April 29, 2011 1:32 PM

It's an interesting theory that hate crimes laws may be used against lgbt people and or people of color unfairly & disproportionately. But are there any statistics that support this specific concern in actuality? These laws have been around for decades - off the top of my head I can't think on an instance - but surely there must be some data you can point to.

Which doesn't mean that there aren't other valid reasons to oppose them.

It's an important step towards tolerance and acceptance. No one ever said it was the "solution"...that is a straw man argument. How dishonest of you.

Hate crime laws are wrong because they give a greater weight to victims based on ethnic categories.

That's not equality or justice. It’s that simple.


This link goes to an article I wrote in 2004, about how the perpetrators of a large proportion of offenses classed as "hate crimes" in New York City are people of color. And the assaults are not just against gay, lesbian and transgender people (or Jews and their synagogues), but also against others of color who are of different ethnicities and nationalities than the perps. In the article, I criticize, as useless and counterproductive, efforts to address the community tensions leading to these crimes by using hate crime law.

"As Queer (In)Justice amply demonstrates, when it's the word of a person of color against a white gay man in a "hate crime," the POC is the one most likely to be charged and indicted."

Well, as government statistics amply demonstrate, the majority of racially motivated hate crimes (most hate crimes are race-related) are committed by whites against people of color, and the largest percentage of hate crimes are committed against African-Americans.

This appears to be more racially divisive rhetoric about evil, privileged gay white male oppressors from Bilerico's main purveyor of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric, Yasmin Nair.

I probably haven't commented here in about 5 years, but here goes.

"Those picked up via HCL are disproportionately people of color."

This has always been the ostensible basis for opposition to hate crimes laws. But I never see supporting data cited. So until I see it, I will continue to think that this argument is no more legitimate than the "bathroom panic" arguments made by people who oppose laws protecting trans people from public accommodations discrimination. And I will continue to see it as similarly founded in ideology rather than reality.

From the 2009 FBI hate crime statistics, Table 5, at http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2009/data/table_05.html:

Number of anti-black hate crimes where the known offender was white: 1,503

Number of anti-white hate crimes where the known offender was black: 304.

Most of the other statistics concerning offenders are similar.

I've also seen claims that hate crimes laws are used disproportionately to arrest people for anti-heterosexual hate crimes, not homophobic crimes (I haven't seen any statistics since trans people were added to the federal hate crimes laws):

Total number of sexual orientation hate crimes in 2009: 1,436

Number of anti-heterosexual hate crimes:

So, until somebody shows me data supporting the claims of the anti-hate crimes crowd (or the part of it not consisting of the religious right), I will continue to believe that the opposition is not necessarily speaking in good faith, and is promoting their prison abolitionist ideology at the expense of victims of hate crimes -- specifically LGBT people in the context of this discussion. Which is fine, and which they have every right to do, but please don't pretend to be LGBT rights advocates while you're doing it.

Hate crimes laws are just a poster child for the opposition, and I doubt that the opposition really has very much to do with the substance of hate crimes laws. I believe that people with this ideology would oppose any and every new criminal law whatever the purpose, if the penalty involved time behind bars.

For years, I used to give money to the SRLP. I met Dean Spade on a number of occasions; I used to go to their fundraisers; I had one of their attorneys on a panel on trans civil rights issues which I helped organize, and moderated at the NYC Bar Association, about 4 years ago.

But since the SRLP came out against GENDA? Since they decided that opposing hate crimes laws because of their prison abolitionist ideology was more important than employment protections for trans people? I will never have anything to do with them again, ever. Not unless they actually provide evidence for their claims about hate crimes laws having been specifically used in a racist way -- and demonstrating that any "disproportion" which, as they claim, exists, arises specifically from the hate crimes aspect of such laws themselves, rather than simply the fact that they *are* criminal laws. As I said above, I think these arguments are used largely as a smokescreen for their true objectives -- not so different from the approach of the "bathroom panic" people. If you're opposed to all new criminal laws, say so, and stop pretending that there's anything specifically bad about hate crimes laws themselves.

I also don't like the scare tactic of asserting that including gender identity in hate crimes laws will result in trans people being disproportionately arrested for anti-cis hate crimes. Sure. Evidence, please? Again: bathroom panic is the only analogy I can think of.

If I'm accusing people and groups opposing LGBT-specific hate crimes laws of possibly arguing in a misleading way, I'm sorry, but I can't help thinking that. And God knows, it's certainly no worse than the accusations which such people and groups like to make against those who disagree with them. As others in this thread have pointed out.

Finally, I'm so tired of the nonsense people opposing these laws spout about how criminal laws shouldn't take motivation and state of mind into account in determining liability and/or setting punishment. (As if just about every criminal law doesn't already do that. Including some that take victim status into account that have nothing to do with hate crimes.) Or call them "thought crimes," another scare tactic that isn't rooted in reality.

Enough already. None of the arguments made against these laws will do anything to repeal the hate crimes laws already in effect, protecting other groups. All they might succeed in accomplishing is possibly to lessen the chance of adding LGBT people to such laws in jurisidictions where that hasn't yet happened. Speaking of disproportionate adverse effects on a particular group!

Kathy Padilla | April 29, 2011 4:25 PM


So - from those numbers you can say that black people are charged with those crimes at a roughly but slightly lower than proportional rate than white people as it relates to their respective numbers in the population. 1503 vs. 304 crimes. Nonhispanic whites being 69.1% and blacks being 12.1% of the pop - it would be about 1736 for whites with that ratio? (totally back of envelope here)

And gays are just orders of magnitude more different.

I completely agree with the author's analysis and assessment of "hate crimes legislation."

I agree. "Hate Crimes Legislation" is no solution to violence against queers since these laws do nothing against state-sanctioned bigotry that reinforces and provides ideological justification for violence against queers (ie "how can we can up a 16 yo kid for a hate crime when the federal government regards LGBT people as "less than" equal?"). But the writer's description of the "cause" of queer oppression is inaccurate. Queer oppression is not an emotional issue to be fought with "better" emotions. Queer oppression serves a material and ideological function for capitalist society. To get rid of queer oppression, you gotta get rid of the system which creates and reinforces it.

That "Hate Crimes Legislation" is currently the dominant rhetoric regarding queer responses to violence is indicative of the lack of democracy and inclusion within the movement itself. So long as we assume that "Gay Inc has it covered" on our rights, they will push for the the most response that generates the least heat, in this case, legislation that serves the needs of those in power and NOT queers. The HCL passed in 2009 was the perfect example of what passes for "a historic achievement" in queer politics of the neoliberal era: it sounds good, but doesn't do a damn thing. You still need to get your ass beat, or worse, before the legislation even kicks in.

friday jones | April 29, 2011 6:21 PM

I think you're being sort of patronizing here, Yasmin. HCL are not aimed at POC or trans or at cis white het males for that matter, they are aimed at violent attackers who attack people for the demonstrable reason that their victims have a certain personal characteristic. Hate crimes have been used to systematically chill the activities of their victims, one great example would be the way that LGBT people are afraid to as much as hold hands in public in some places for fear of needing emergency dental work.

To hell with violent attackers, especially ones who attack with the intent to eradicate a people. Let them rot in jail, I don't care how rough they have it in society or whatever the hell sympathy ploy you're angling for here. Know who has a rough time in society? Trans women. Don't see a lot of them going around beating people up for taking a pee.

Very interesting analysis Yasmin. I'm not 100% sure how I feel about the issue at this moment and I admit I have not previously thought out the question from this perspective. I will be thinking this over, however, for sure.

Also I would say that some of the comments I've read that are critical of Yasmin's analysis are a bit disappointing. They come off kinda reactionary and as if the commenter is unwilling to consider the issue very deeply.

Om Kalthoum | April 29, 2011 9:44 PM

"Those picked up via HCL are disproportionately people of color and economically disenfranchised."

Prove It. The wording "those picked up via HCL" is peculiar, but can only mean "those who are charged with hate crimes." So prove that those who are charged with hate crimes are "disproportionately people of color." The FBI compiles and publishes all manner of data points regarding hate crimes per annum. I suspect you are entirely wrong but am not interested in doing your homework for you. You made the assertion. Now prove it.

And are you honestly saying that those of a particular pigmentation should not be charged under hate crimes laws while those of other pigmentation should be? Or are you saying that you don't believe that hate crime laws should exist at all?

She doesn't need to prove it. What she says is true because it feels true, even if it's not supported by facts. What's important is that it furthers her ideology of victimhood in which gay white man are the new oppressor class.

John Rutledge | April 30, 2011 9:56 AM

The fact that the president signed HCL means he is in collusion with the prison system? Did anyone pick up on that statement? The author lost major credibilty on that one. Matt Shepherd's mom was right there. Think she would agree? To give that meaning is a broad slap to all who went before. Saying is HCL is wrong because a disproportionate amount of those who commit those crimes are POC is no reason to not have them. Do we then not have HCL to protect African Americans because a diproportionate amount of people who commit those are uneducated, white rednecks? A hate crime is a hate crime, regardless of who commits it, or what their color is.

Amber Thompson | April 30, 2011 11:48 AM

There are three classes of murder, First Degree, Second Degree, and Third degree. The difference, intent, ie. Thought.

This misguided argument against hate crimes is one more reason why I will never let people like Yasmin Nair presume to speak for me or represent me. Simply put, she and others like her who believe themselves to be part of the progressive queer activist vanguard will throw most of us in the LGBT community under the bus, time after time. If we dare to admit that we do care about marriage equality, "don't ask-don't tell", hate crimes legislation, anti-bullying programs, and curricular inclusion of LGBT history, somehow we are selfish, elitist, bourgeois, insensitive to issues of race and class, and part of the capitalist-prison-industrial complex. It's a tired, old, and frustrating refrain, and it's replayed entirely too much here on Bilerico.

It still boggles the mind that Nair or anyone else would be more interested in sympathizing with the thugs who brutally attacked the woman in McDonalds than in standing in solidarity with the woman who was attacked. If the victim herself has called the attack a hate crime and would like to see it prosecuted as such, Nair would do well to respect the victim's wishes and keep her own thoughts on the matter to herself.

It still boggles the mind that Nair or anyone else would be more interested in sympathizing with the thugs who brutally attacked the woman in McDonalds than in standing in solidarity with the woman who was attacked.

It's not so mind-boggling when you consider the underlying reason. I really hate the term "reverse racism," but the ugly little truth about these far-left "radical queers" is that they have a racial bias against Caucasians, especially gay white men. Part of it might be racial animosity or self-hatred, but a bigger part is their whole ideology of victimhood.

That's why Yasmin wrote, "As Queer (In)Justice amply demonstrates, when it's the word of a person of color against a white gay man in a 'hate crime,' the POC is the one most likely to be charged and indicted," without actually citing any data to support that assertion, even though government statistics clearly show that the vast majority of hate crimes are committed by whites.

FrankInSFO | May 1, 2011 2:28 PM

Thank you, VaqueroSF...a voice of reason.

How people in our community can be on the same side as fundamentalist "leaders", neo-conservatives, right-wing wingnuts, and say Hate Crimes Legislation isn't needed to cover the LGBT community, baffles me. These same groups and people have HCL covering them already, e.g., race, gender, national origin, religion. Their objective to prevent the President from signing further HCL into law, in memory of Matthew Shepard and James Beard, was to prevent us from having equal footing with them ("mainstream, normal Americans").

This served as the first historic legislative win for our community and the momentum was used in building support in repealing DADT and further building the legislative foundation for repealing DOMA and enacting ENDA. Not to mention the fact that the President has, with a stroke of a pen or directives from his office, has done more for our community than any other President ever.

HCL was never meant to prevent anything. You can't stop someone who has every intent on causing harm and destruction to a marginalized community who are traditionally a "minority" (vulnerable) class. But, if it makes just one person stop and wonder and understand the consequences of their actions, where is the harm? The next intended victim could be anyone of us, but never see it come to fruition because of recently enacted HCL. That can't be bad, right?