Hate Crimes

Hate Crimes


Leonard Zwelling

This is another issue that has me deeply conflicted. It is not that I don’t believe there are evil acts perpetrated by those driven by prejudice. I do. As a Jew, how could I not? BUT—and this is a huge but—just because a white male has committed a criminal act and the victims are Black, women, Asian, Jewish or any other group that has been harassed over the decades does not make the crime a hate crime.

The left-leaning media is blowing up the murders in massage parlors in Atlanta as a hate crime. (Even Senator Warnock of Georgia said so on Meet the Press on March 21.) This has yet to be determined. The early reports had the perpetrator as being a sex addict wanting to erase temptation with a gun. Thus, the fact that six of his eight victims were Asian-American may not indicate this is an anti-Asian hate crime.

Let’s be clear. The news is full of examples of true anti-Asian hate crimes and such incidences seem to be on the rise. Most logical people will attribute this to President Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus crisis giving license to the racists in our midst. That being said, he was right about the virus. It did come from China. But by not watching his words and the tone of those words he gave that license to those of his followers who were just looking for an excuse to beat on someone for no good reason. Look what they did on Capitol Hill on January 6.

There are hate crimes and there are hate crimes.

The apparently random acts of assault on Asian-Americans on the streets of American cities are outrageous. Those who have committed these acts must be brought to justice and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. These are hate crimes.

Then there are the crimes like the mass murder that occurred in Atlanta that may or may not be racially motivated. The law makes a distinction here. Hate crimes are more vigorously punished. But should they be? The acts themselves are so heinous, the full extent of the law being brought to bear should be more than sufficient punishment regardless of motive.

Finally, there’s the Charlottesville scenario where the only reason the criminals were there is to commit acts of hate. There is no doubt here. When the criminals are carrying torches and shouting Nazi slogans, that’s a hate crime.

We just have to be meticulous in documenting motive in these acts of violence and be wary that motive should override the awful act itself.

This is analogous to the issue of conflict of interest in academic medicine. The only way to know that a scientist’s results are not being affected by his interest in a company sponsoring his work is to make sure that scientist cannot own stock in the company and benefit financially from his own discovery. Otherwise, there’s simply no way of knowing what he or she was thinking when he or she touted the latest breakthrough in industry-sponsored research.

As of now, we cannot know what was in someone’s mind when he or she committed a crime. As such, it is the crime that needs to be punished not the motive although the concept of mens rea is huge in law. In the case in Atlanta, whether or not it was a hate crime does not really matter. What matters is the tragedy of the death and the need for justice, to the extent possible.

We have to be very careful when we claim to know what someone else is thinking. It gets dicey sometimes. The latest round of street violence against Asians, especially by people shouting anti-Asian epithets clearly suggest hate crimes are out there. That does not mean that every Asian-American who is victim of crime is a victim of a hate crime. That goes for Blacks, women, Jews and Hispanics. The media needs to be far more circumspect about throwing around the words hate crime. In the case in Atlanta, characterizing these murders as a hate crime is premature as of this writing (March 21). We will see what a thorough investigation and a trial goes to prove.

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