November 1998
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Angry Dan's Column

Hate Crime Laws

by Daniel Strohl

I am opposed to hate crimes.

Let me tell you about hate crimes as I understand them. They increase penalties for defendants found guilty of committing crimes inspired by certain prejudices. They are in effect in 41 states and in U.S. federal law. Some states, like Nebraska, punish hate crimes only as aggravating circumstances along with some other crime committed. And as I understand the subject, in some states one can be punished for a hate crime such as intimidation without committing another crime. So one can be convicted of a hate crime for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. But whether or not the hate was committed in the presence of another crime, the hate is still put on trial.

So there's something more important here.

Are hate crimes not thought crimes?

Jacqueline Turner, a public defender representing a white New Jersey man convicted of shooting out a black family's windows and under trial for the hate crime aspect of his act, said, "Most people want to punish racists and bad people" with hate crime laws. I concede that racism is a particularly distasteful belief, along with homophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, sexism, etc. But should we punish someone for holding these thoughts and beliefs? Should we restrict them from thinking a certain way? Are we back in the time of the Inquisition?

Turn this situation around. It's now wrong to be an activist for equal rights and liberal thinking. How dare one believe two homosexuals should marry or blacks and whites might intermingle?

But our "wrong" way of thinking is right, one might say.


Who are you to say what is right or what is wrong? Who is the activist to say what is right? Who is the freedom fighter to say what is right? Who are the men in power to say what is right? Who is Jesus to say what is right? Who am I who are you to say what is right?

We're all people. We're no gods or omniscient beings to tell others how to think or really even how to act. And the only thing I've found right so far is to not condemn what is seen as wrong.

But then again, who am I to say what is right?

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