For a while now, I’ve been struggling with the concept of ‘hate crimes,’ as used in American law. Part of my problem is described in the linked wikipedia article — it’s one of the areas of jurisprudence which gets most involved with the mindset of the criminal — not just whether he* planned the murder or knew what he was doing, but why he did it. It’s a fraught question, because it is nebulous and requires the court to ultimately know the killer’s motives, perhaps better than he does himself. There is also the issue of thoughtcrime — most of us don’t like the prospect of being prosecuted for thoughts, even if those thoughts are, in the case of hate crimes, pretty vile.
That, I don’t think, is quite enough to throw out the concept of ‘hate crime’ as an aggravating factor or separate charge entirely. But one thing I find particularly problematic about the ‘hate crime’ label is inconsistencies in how it is deployed. For one thing, I think the legal defense “gay panic” is pretty much an admission of hate crime, not a defense against it, but that’s not my main point here. My main point is that certain groups aren’t protected. Particularly, women.
Until today, this thought process of mine about hate crimes and women ended: “Aren’t most serial killers motivated by an irrational hatred of women? Why the hell aren’t they being prosecuted for hate crimes?” Well, today we have a new standard: A gunman enters a school, has all the boys leave, and starts shooting girls. (Not to be confused with the Colorado school shooting/hostage crisis last week, where the gunman chose certain (mostly blonde) girls as hostages and sexually assaulted them.) Of course, the gunmen in both cases are dead. That’s pretty much par for this particular course. So we won’t find out if any DA would consider prosecuting this as a hate crime. But I have a feeling that if the killer had let all the white schoolchildren out of a mixed-race classroom and started shooting at the remaining children, there would be no question.
Should ‘hate crime’ legislation be used to prosecute such a criminal, if we manage to catch one alive? Or is the entire ‘hate crime’ designation too nebulous to remain in the body of American law? I am most certainly not a lawyer, and I really don’t know. It all just makes me tired and sad. What do you think, reader?
* I use the male pronoun throughout. At first, I used ‘he/she’, but by the time I got to ‘himself/herself’, it had become ridiculous. Not all criminals are male, not all killers are male. I am adopting ‘he’ for ease of use.