Expanding Hate Crimes

Now Congress wants to expand a federal hate-crime law, and the White House wants to veto the expansion. It’s another battle between liberals and conservatives, with neither side really listening to the other.

After the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Congress passed a resolution allowing for federal investigation and prosecution of violent crime motivated by race, color, religious orientation or national origin while engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting or attending public school. The new legislation seeks to expand this law beyond “federally protected activities,” to include all activities.

The Senate named the expansion of the bill after Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student whose fatal 1998 beating helped inspire the legislation. Under the new legislation, Matthew Shepard’s killers will have received full federal prosecution for their crime.

House Judiciary Committee Republicans wrote, in response, “Justice should be blind to the personal traits of victims.” The main thrust of the conservative opposition is that it’s unconstitutional to say that one violent crime is a more serious offense than another violent crime. What is the matierial difference between a roving gang of hoodlems beating a college student to death as they spit, “Bitch!” and doing the same thing but spitting, “Ni**er!/Fa**ot!/White Motherfu**er!”?

I think it’s difficult for liberals to answer this question, except to say that hate crimes simply ARE more morally repugnant, given the foundation of our nation’s strength in diversity (and our human-all-too-human failings to see diversity through). And to this a conservative might respond that our nation’s strength is actually founded in equality, the equality of all men and women under the law. And I suppose both sides are right, which is why there has always been fierce political contention over the structure of this country’s laws, and always will be, as long as we remain, still, a Nation of Laws.