Outlawing Hate - Page 2
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Reading--Outlawing Hate

  • In 1998, three white men murdered a black man named James Byrd Jr. by dragging him for three miles behind a truck until his body was literally torn apart. The men, all sworn racists, targeted Byrd because he was black.
  • In 1998, a young, gay college student, Matthew Shepard, was brutally beaten and left to die entangled in a fence. His murderers chose their victim because of his sexual orientation.
  • In 2001, terrorist hijackers believed to be Islamic fundamentalists crashed three passenger planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands. Immediately afterward, attacks on Arab Americans, Sikhs, and others of Middle Eastern and Arab descent increased dramatically.
  • In 2002, the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission released a report titled " The Other Victims of September 11 ." The report recorded 1,031 alleged hate crimes, compared with 933 in 2000. According to the Los Angeles Times , "the total is the highest recorded since the county began keeping statistics 21 years ago." Of the suspected Los Angeles-based hate crimes, 188 were committed against individuals or groups because of a belief that they were Muslims or of Middle Eastern descent.
Currently 45 states have hate-crime laws. These laws have involved controversy and even court challenges. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of hate crime laws for sentencing. These laws add extra penalties for any crime committed out of hate. Some of these laws define a hate crime as any crime committed against a person or a person’s property motivated because of the person’s race, religion, nationality, or ethnicity. Others also include bias against gender, sexual orientation, and disability.

Hate Crimes Laws Pro and Con
Since September 11, more states and the federal government are considering adopting hate crime laws. Supporters see these laws as extremely important in our diverse society. They believe hate crimes deeply hurt all levels of the community—individuals, families, groups, and society at large. Hate crimes intentionally send a message that minorities are unwelcome and unsafe. Supporters argue that hate-crime laws will help prevent violence and convey our society’s intolerance for these crimes.

Opponents view hate-crime legislation as well-meaning but unnecessary and even counterproductive. They argue that anyone who commits a serious crime is already punishable under current laws. These laws protect everyone equally. They see no reason to pass laws that set up special classes of victims. In addition, they see no need for federal intervention into an area of law that states have traditionally handled. Further, they contend that hate-crime laws will primarily affect those who commit lesser crimes. They believe that sending someone into our overburdened and racist-filled prison system is likely to make them more racist. Thus the law may actually increase hate crimes.

Discussion Questions
  • What are hate crimes?
  • How serious do you think the problem of hate crimes is in the United States? Explain.
  • Do you think the problem of hate crimes has gotten worse since September 11? Why or why not?
  • Do you think states and the federal government should pass hate-crime legislation? Explain.