on hate crimes

Two friends of mine, along with many other bloggers, have written about a horrendous incident that took place recently in Toronto. Jane Currie and Anji Dimitriou, a couple, were attacked and beaten. Their assailant, Mark Scott, spewed homophobic filth at them, spat in the face of one of them, and punched them, while the couple's child watched, screaming.

Onlookers intervened, pushing the assailant away and calling the police. The man was charged with assault, but not with a hate crime. From what I understand of Canadian law, this was obviously a hate crime and the charges should reflect that.

My problem is I don't think there should be a type of crime called a hate crime.

(I understand that bigotry is considered an aggravating factor, reflected in sentencing; the words "type of crime" may not be legally correct. Nevertheless, I hope you'll understand my meaning.)

Of course I think this kind of violence is horrible. Every normal person does. In addition, I've been a victim of violent crime, so I know something about how Ms. Currie and Ms. Dimitriou will suffer, how traumatized they will be. And although I'm not a parent, I can imagine with horror the extra layers of suffering they will endure because their child was forced to witness this attack. The child of the assailant, who was also present, is also a victim. I also have no doubt that there was a special horror for the two women and their child because of what their assailant yelled.

And, for the sake of clarity, I repeat: according to Canadian law, this was a hate crime, and the charges should reflect that.

My problem with designating an attack as a hate crime is it's a form of thought control. No one should be punished for thoughts, no matter how repulsive those thoughts are, no matter how wrong. It's Mark Scott's right to think anything he wants. It's not his right to harass anyone, or hit anyone, but there are already laws against that.

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To some extent, most violent crime could be said to be motivated by hate, at least in part. Men's hatred of women is the bottom line of so much rape and other violence against women. But rape itself is not considered a hate crime, unless it's paired with some specific reference to the victim's background.

If a man attacks me and never says a word, or if a man attacks me while screaming I am a dirty bitch Jew, I've been attacked, either way. I'm not convinced the crime is actually worse because of the words that flew out of his mouth in his twisted rage.

This is related to my basic disagreement with some of the definitions of human-rights violations recognized by Canadian law. Speaking or writing hateful things about people because of their background, orientation, religion, and such, is morally wrong, but I don't think it should be legally wrong.

I don't think there's a human right not to be hated.

I understand that the path to genocide, in many instances, has been paved with inflammatory words, both written and spoken. But I don't think the way to combat dangerous words is to outlaw them. That only serves to drive the words underground, and may well strengthen the bonds of hatred with the perception of a shared persecution.

I'd rather those dangerous thoughts be exposed to the light of day, where they can be countered with truth. And if nothing else, I'd rather we know the hatred is out there than imagine we live in a world of peaceful tolerance, while hatred seethes below the surface.

I also disagree with hate-crimes laws because I feel they bestow special status on some crime victims by punishing their assailants more harshly. Wingnuts often claim to oppose equal rights laws because they supposedly confer people with special protection. (That's not true, of course; they oppose equal rights because they are bigots.) But equal rights are equal rights. Equal must be equal. Not "some are more equal than others".

When I was trained as a volunteer phone counselor at a rape-crisis centre, the instructor was determined to show us how a rape in which race or ethnicity was a factor was worse than a rape in which it wasn't. I just couldn't see it. I still can't.

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