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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The Rutgers SpyCam Case and the History of Hate Crime Legislation

Federalization of Hate Crime Legislation

     In 1969, congress made criminal homicide, aggravated assault, rape, and the destruction of property federal crimes if the offender's motivation was hatred of the victim's race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. The law applied to victims attending federally funded public schools, or participating in other federally protected activities. Critics of the legislation considered it redundant and excessive. Moreover, it created a preferred class of victim, and criminalized motive and thought. Others criticized this hate crime legislation for not going far enough, for not including gay people.

     The House of Representatives, in 2007, passed the Matthew Shepard Act, legislation named after the gay Wyoming college student who was murdered in 1998. The act expanded hate crime protection to gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, and disability bias. It also dropped the prerequisite that victims be engaged in federally protected activity. The U. S. Senate passed a similar bill, but it did not become law.

     In October 2009, the House of Representatives passed another measure, this one attached to the $681-billion military policy bill of 2010 which mirrored the Matthew Shepard Act. The military appropriation, and the attached hate crime legislation, was taken up by the Senate, which passed its own version of the bill. Under this new legislation, signed by President Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice would allocate $5 million a year to help local authorities prosecute hate crimes.

     It was comforting to know that the politicians in Washington not only wanted to wipe out crime, they intended to eliminate hate as well.

State Hate Crime Laws

     Today, 47 states have laws making certain crimes more serious if the perpetrators were motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious bias. (Wyoming, Arkansas and South Carolina do not have such legislation.) So, to assault a person out of personal anger, or simply to steal his wallet, is one thing. To assault him because he's a certain race or religion, makes the crime, for that reason alone, more serious. It's the thought behind the crime that makes the difference. These laws therefore criminalize thought and belief. In 35 states, the hate crime legislation also covers people who are gay. (Advice to white muggers: to avoid enhanced prison sentences, only rob white heterosexuals. If you make a mistake and accidentally assault a gay person, you may have to commit perjury on the issue of your sexual orientation beliefs.)

Rutgers SpyCam Case

     On March 17, 2012, a jury in New Brunswick, New Jersey found former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi guilty of anti-gay intimidation for using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate's sexual activity. The 18-year-old student Ravi spied on, committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. The judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail.

         What was Dharun Ravi being punished for? The suicide? The cruel invasion of his roommate's privacy? The humiliation of a fellow student? Atrocious student conduct? Ravi wasn't going to jail for any of these acts. He didn't kill Tyler Clementi. He didn't invade his privacy and humiliate him with the intent of causing his suicide. Although the prosecution didn't present any solid evidence that the defendant's behavior was motivated by a hatred of gays, Ravi was punished for anti-gay motivated behavior. He was punished for his thoughts and a motive he may or may not have had. If the facts of this case were identical except that the roommate was having sex with a woman, would Ravi have gone to jail. Of course not.

     Hate crime law is not just redundant feel-good legislation passed by thoughtless, pandering politicians, it's dangerous thought crime that is un-American. 

1 comment:

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