Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hate Crimes

Leonard Pitts wrote this past week about the recently-deceased James Cameron, who survived a lynching in 1930. It's a moving and disturbing snapshot of an ugly era in America's history.

Pitts goes on to say that he supports hate crime legislation because racially-motivated crimes (I assume he also includes other similar crimes, such as crimes against people based on their sexual orientation or nationality) are acts of terror, directed not just against the individual but against the entire community.

But really, so is every crime. That's why they're crimes, not torts -- they are an offense against the common good, against the entire community.

But that's not why I oppose hate crime legislation. I truly, deeply feel that the right way to deal with a hate criminal, or a terrorist, is to treat him just like any other thug. "There is no special treatment," we say. "There is no vengeance. There is no vigilante mob. There is justice." In some ways it seems like the reverse form of the extra prosecution a black man attacking a white woman used to receive (and sadly still does in some places); saying that this crime is special, this crime is different, this crime is more. This PERSON matters more, or less, than this other person. I don't believe that. A crime is a crime, a thug is a thug, and a system of equal justice under law is impassive about the actors in the crime - as impassive as possible, anyway. Hate crime legislation is an admission that these people have power. That they frighten us. That their hate is succeeding. I reject that.

Shortly after 9/11, I wrote a piece for the paper I was then columnating for, urging that bin Laden NOT be taken dead, but alive and brought to justice, with a skilled attorney, in open court, in the United States. He hates everything our laws stand for; what better fate for a terrorist out to destroy America and its freedoms than to subject him to the brutal fairness, the bright sunshine, the zealous representation in our court system? I still believe that, and it's why I hate that we're hiding terrorists in Guantanamo or "renditioning" them to torture camps: It is the light of day that destroys such slime, not the dark of secrecy. (Worse, in such dark places, denying our own system of open justice, we may become what we now fight against.) The KKK knew better than anyone that evil requires darkness and secrecy: It's why they wore hoods.

But Justice wears a blindfold. Bring the doers of hate crimes, the doers of terrorism, the doers of garden-variety crimes before her blind eyes. "We are not terrorized," we say to Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski, to Osama bin Laden and the KKK, to Larry Bright and Matt Hale. "We will not bow before you. We will not justify your actions by persecuting you in the dark. Will we bring you before Justice, we will prosecute you in the broad light of day, and we will treat you like any other thug, like any other criminal."

In the end, I think, this is why I became a lawyer: Because I believe in the blindfold. Because I believe in the sunshine.

10 comments:

HeartShadow said...

*cheers* well said.

Tony said...

I agree... I have never been a fan of the hate crime term. Aren't all crimes "hate" crimes?

Anonymous said...

War is death and killing. That is the reality of war, sunshine. bin Laden declared war upon America. Many Americans died after that declaration. But many died prior to the "official" declaration by bin Laden. Just read the historical origins of Arab/Islamist terrorism. It all began after 1948.

YOU, the lawyer, can fight the war with eloquent prose, political correctness and taking combatants to court with attorneys and judges. But YOU the lawyer will never win the WAR. THEY, the Islamists, relentlessly will fight with dirty bombs, AK-47's, IED's, deceptions, obfuscations, atomic bombs, etc. and court proceedings will not stop them.

Islamists are NOT just any other thugs, sunshine. To think that way is a huge mistake. We are not dealing with Matt Hales, Larry Brights or even the KKK. The freaks we are dealing with are much worse and more violently focused. I'm disconcerted by the fact that someone like you can't realize that. But I am even more disconcerted that I think our government is filled with people like you. We could be doomed if that is the case.

HeartShadow said...

wow, *sunshine*, you've swallowed all the rhetoric, haven't you?

War is bloody and dirty and horrible, yes. But the more we accept the horror and believe it's *right*, the more we bring it about.

You change things by integration. By getting rid of the terror.

You do realize that WE created Bin Laden and supported Taliban and anyone else that would oppose those *horrible* Communists, right? Same song, new tune. Time to clean up our messes.

It's easy to label them different and want to destroy them. But every one we bomb creates more. It's the never ending war machine supporting the military-industrial complex.

Tell me, have you paid your dues to Haliburton yet?

Anonymous said...

Rhetoric! Wow! From someone who knows how to fight a war with peace! Cool. Hope you can win it. Won't happen though because it has never happened before. Rhetoric on, dog.

*Halliburton* was included in your response and so was *horrible* communists. Typical response from someone *like* you....an *idiot*.

So communists were not *horrible*? Wow! Since when? You must be 20 or 30 something. All I can say is that I was never tortured and executed by those *horrible* ole commies. But, my grandfather and 3 uncles were tortured and executed by them at the end of WWII (Yugoslavia)in a manner similar to the way those 2 soldiers that were killed in Iraq the other day. My dad managed to escape. But his brothers were tortured and executed and were then thrown into a cave along with 20k of their fellow countrymen and covered with cement. They lie there still in that country which is no longer communist. When they couldn't find my dad they found my grandfather (who had nothing to do with the war) and did to him what they wanted to do to my father.

You are a fool and a jackass and an idiot. You don't even know what you are talking about with any accuracy. I know what we supported during the Afghan war against the communists. Do you? Color it any way you want but you are a fool regardless.

Hope you and I never have to fight here like my family had to over there. But if we do I hope I'm never in a foxhole with you, heartshadow. I'm sure I will end up dead if that were the case. You go and fight this war intellectually. You will be a loser and dead.

Tony said...

Heartshadow, you have this a bit wrong. We did not create Bin Laden nor did we support the Taliban. We DID however support the Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets beginning in 1979. The Carter administration began that support.

So, before you start the Halliburton song and blame this on Reagan/Bush/Bush, it may be time to brush up on your history.

Anonymous said...

Eyebrows - I'm not the same anonymous that posted earlier in the day - call me "anon 2" if you like. I find what you have written to be very thought provoking especially when you say "we may become what we now fight against". What do you think should be done with those that our government now holds at Guantanamo?

C. J. Summers said...

Bin Laden's lawyers would doubtless have him plead not guilty by reason of insanity, and he'd end up going to a mental ward for the rest of his life on the public dole.

I say we drop a bomb on him just like we did with Al-Zarqawi.

Eyebrows McGee said...

This post was really about hate crimes, not terror (terror came in because of the allegation that hate crimes are different from regular crimes because they're meant to terrorize) but I'll answer the terror points anyway:

re: Guantanamo inmates - transfer them to maximum-security prisons in the continental US and give them lawyers. I am deeply bothered by the U.S. denying anyone - citizen or foreigner - basic rights, and detaining them indefinitely. There are genuine issues of national security involved in the information these people can (allegedly) give us, so proceedings against them would probably have to be closed (and transcribed or recorded, to be released later).

There was some talk, back when the war started, that because the issues were so sensitive, the US was going to assign JAG lawyers to captured alleged terrorists. (The word that was going around was that Navy was going to defend and Air Force prosecute, I think, in courts martial presided over by very senior JAG judges.) Nothing came of it, but I actually think this was a very good idea. JAG lawyers are generally very good at what they do, and could be counted on to keep national security issues secret.

In an ideal situation I'd prefer the trials be open to the public, but until we've rounded up 99% of al-Qaeda's people, I recognize that's not necessarily the brightest idea. If the rabbits know how close the wolf is, they're going to go find new warrens to hide in.

re: bin Laden - clearly doesn't meet the legal definition of insanity. Truly, the primary job of his defense lawyers would be forcing the prosecution to prove - really, really prove - his connections and links to the deaths of Americans. I don't think anybody doubts that, but nobody would be able to come back later and say, "Look how conveniently he was killed before all the facts came out." There would be no possible room for doubt after his trial.

re anonymous, who I think is a troll and if not a troll is at least extremely rude and suffering from vocabulary shortage problems: prosecuting criminals doesn't mean you hand them a nice summons and let them out on the street. Prosecuting war criminals and terrorists doesn't mean you abdicate your responsibility to protect your citizenry. While as a Christian I'm reluctant to speak in favor of war, as a student of politics I realize that sometimes violence becomes inevitable. It would be stupid just to start sending summonses to bin Laden's cave and hoping he'd be so kind as to show up. When they shoot, we will shoot back. To do otherwise, at least on a large scale, is impractical in today's world.

Still, there's a great deal of value in bringing enemy war criminals to trial and bringing the ugliness into the bright light of day. It's far more difficult to make a martyr of a convicted war criminal than of an assassinated revolutionary. It's much harder to support conspiracy theories when there's been an open trial.

Bringing Nazis to trial at Nuremburg was important. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission operated on much the same principal - bring the ugliness into the open so that it can end - although without prosecutions.

Pursuing justice does not mean abdicating one's responsibility to protect society from criminals of any stripe. It does mean, however acting in concert with our ideals as a just and fair society, and respecting the rule of law that makes us a free society.

If one is determined to ignore the rule of law, to ignore our hard-won equality, why bother fighting al-Qaeda? Just hand them the keys to the kingdom. They want to destroy our freedoms; ignoring the rule of law is helping them do it. It might not be exactly the process they had in mind, but it'll come out the same way in the end.

Rose Garman said...

What rambling drivel.