While I haven’t followed the Trayvon Martin killing as closely as some I’m certainly interested and, from what I’ve heard, it doesn’t look good for the police. However I prefer waiting for the final returns before getting enthusiastic. One obvious conclusion is that there’s something very wrong with Florida’s “stand your ground” law. It’s worth knowing that it was enacted by the Florida legislature with aggressive promotion by the Governor Jeb Bush.
An ancillary argument has developed on which I have a firm opinion. That is the place of separate legal treatment for “hate” crimes. The following was written five years ago when I was learning the advantage of the computer over the electric typewriter and hadn’t got to email. I consider it equally relevant today. I don’t expect complete agreement on this one.
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While I accept the legitimacy of arguments of those who want a special category for “hate crimes” I disagree with their conclusion. For openers, the word “hate” in this context takes in too much territory. There are many hate induced violent crimes that don’t affect homosexuals, ethnic or religious minorities such as acts between any combination of jealous husbands, wives or lovers. At the risk of seeming homophobic, I have only begrudgingly accepted the loss of two perfectly good words that have been part of the English language for centuries, queer and gay. I can get by with synonyms. But hate is too big a word to be co-opted by any group to support its agenda.
As a practical matter, our ability to determine intent in the commission of crimes is inexact. Then there is the possibility that courts in homophobic or racist communities might use this tool against the people it was meant to protect.
Most important, I believe that murder is murder and armed robbery is just that, nothing more or less. I grant the need for a federal statute against murder. It was incongruous for O.J. Simpson to be acquitted of that crime in California and convicted in Federal Court for depriving people of their civil rights by murdering them. But I’d be as upset by a violent act committed against me for the contents of my wallet as I would by the same act committed because my parents were Jewish. When it comes to violent crime, I am an equal opportunity hater.