Wednesday, October 13, 2004

When is a hate crime not a hate crime?

When the hate's aimed at the wrong target.

Here's a scene: At a late night diner in St. Louis, some (most likely drunk) folks get into an arguement. One of them flashes his swastikia tattoo before leaving the diner. Outside, he strikes one of the other people from behind while yelling "Jew boy!" He then stomps the person's skull in.

Sound like a hate crime? Well, it would be. Except that the victim wasn't Jewish. So Kevin A. Johnson (scroll down) wasn't charged with a hate crime. He did, however, get a whopping big sentence for a second-degree murder conviction.

I don't really want to use the word "funny" to describe this situation, but a there are a few things here that highlight how ridiculous "hate crime" legislation is. If we're going to include motive as a basis of sentencing, shouldn't this qualify? Just because Johnson was wrong when he yelled "Jew Boy" doesn't change what he though he was doing. As someone who's a little racially ambigous myself, I'd hate to think that if I got my head stomped in by a mistaken racist, the prosecutor would want to run a DNA test before giving the bastard the proper amount of jail time.

The other thing that I find odd is the phrasing that I've seen in every single article about this case that I've read: "Family members have said that Schnelle [the victim] was not Jewish." Not, "Schnelle was not Jewish," but "family members say." Are the journalists suggesting that the family shouldn't be trusted on this? Isn't this the type of thing we could verify? If some dumb redneck went and killed a guy for being French when the guy was just from Monet, MO, would the paper say "family members say he was not French." Hardly.


Blogger Joe said...

Great post, Jordo. I want to argue with you just for the hell of it. But I can't. You're right.

On the attribution issue, it drives me crazy. Reporters always feel safer if they write that someone said something is true, instead of just saying it's true, even if they know it's true. I don't think it's being skeptical of the family. I just think it's bad newswriting.

And I'll go ahead and spell out why hate crimes are wrong, since you left it alone, and it is a bit controversial. Hate crimes are wrong because they make hate illegal. It's a plain violation of freedom of conscience. Meanwhile, there's enough leeway in criminal statutes to throw the book at sick fucks who bash in skulls out of hatred, be it racist or otherwise.

Anyway, it's obvious to us, but not to everyone.

6:23 AM  
Blogger The Bookhouse Boy said...

I was making this argument to social worker Delany, who pointed out that on the average, "hate crimes" are rather more vicious than their hateless peers. I don't doubt him. My point is, stomping someone's skull in sucks. No matter what.

3:13 PM  

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