Now, I’ve always been ambivalent about hate crimes legislation. I tend to fall firmly on the side of “a crime is a crime.” Assault against any individual is illegal, right? So why create special classes of victims against whom a violent crime is greater? Especially when the ideal of equality demands nothing more than each crime be treated the same?
I ask myself these questions over and over, trying to resolve the conflict inside me, and one conclusion always wins out — the ideal of equality is still just that, an ideal. It has yet to be fully achieved, so temporary measures must be put in place to level the playing field.
Once, because the barriers facing blacks in the workplace were so high, and attitudes against them so strong, it was decided their hiring in industry and placement in higher education would be required. And decades later, many of those obstacles are weaker, or no longer present, and Americans of all ethnicities can more realistically expect to be selected based on merit. There is still progress to be made, but one would be hard pressed to argue that the abundance of opportunities in this country have not been made more widely accessible.
How does this apply to hate crimes? Well, despite the incredible amount of social progress that has occurred over the past century, it remains a fact that there are some classes of citizens we still allow to be victims — women, children, immigrants, gays, etc. There is still a baseline, a default, against which all “others” are compared and, failing in that comparison, are deemed not worth protecting. This is not to understate the progress that has been made — to ignore the considerable achievements made up to this point would be inexcusably ignorant. But if we are to be honest, we must recognize that there are communities in our country we do not care about enough to, say, prosecute an individual who commits a violent crime against them.
If, as I would like to believe, and as hate-crimes legislation opponents argue, that “a crime is a crime,” the man responsible for this assault would have been duly arrested for his actions. The fact that law enforcement officials feel no need to enforce the law in the service of certain people is reason enough for me to support legislation that requires them to do so. Imagine — having to require cops to do their job.
If federal hate crimes legislation accomplishes anything, it is acknowledging that we, as a country, refuse to condone — much less encourage — the victimization of whole groups of people.