Pushed by the Senate leadership, including Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta, and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, hate crime is holding center stage in the Georgia Legislature this week.
All but nine states have hate crime laws on their books which simply proves that 41 states can be wrong. Hate is a sin, not a crime. Turning it into a crime marks a fundamental (and scary) change in our law -- punishing people for what they think (or, more accurately, for what the state says they think).
The Georgia measure, introduced by Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, would give judges the power to impose harsher sentences on persons whose criminal acts -- covering everything from murder to vandalism -- are motivated by hate for race, gender, color, religion, disability, ancestry, ethnicity or national origin, plus sexual orientation.
Some objections have been raised because unlike most other states with hate crime laws, Fort's bill empowers the judge, instead of the jury, to determine if hatred was a factor in the crime. Also some lawmakers indicate they may vote against the bill because it includes sexual orientation.
These are nitpicking reasons not to support Fort. The main reason to defeat hate crime legislation, as Chronicle columnist George F. Will has pointed out, is that "the multiplication of hate crime categories -- statutes stipulating that some crime victims are especially important -- is an imprudent extension of identity politics."
Will cites Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics by James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter. Their book defines identity politics as individuals relating to one another as members of competing groups defined by race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
If you don't belong to one of the "privileged" groups, your assailant's punishment is less severe. The question hate crime supporters have not fairly answered is why a crime is more serious if it's done out of hate than out of greed, jealousy or whatever.
To the victims of crime, motive makes no difference. They are still in bad shape. Brutal crimes deserve harsh punishment. If the law is too soft, then tighten it up for everybody -- not just for victims of so-called "hate crimes."
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