By Alexander Cockburn
June 26, 2009
We’ve got the Hate Crimes Bill, aka the Matthew Shepard Act, aka the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, before Congress and far advanced on its repellent journey towards the statute book. On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill, which passed the House of Representatives by a 249-175 vote in April. If passed, President Obama is expected to sign it.
The Matthew Shepard Act is a ham-handed attempt to right injustice by establishing different legal treatment for some classes of crime victims. The proposed statute classifies as “hate crimes” attacks based on a victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. America is well on its way to making it illegal to say anything nasty about gays, Jews, blacks and women. “Hate speech,” far short of any direct incitement to violence, is on the edge of being criminalized, with the First Amendment gone the way of the dodo.
The problem with the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is that it creates a thought crime and also categories of crime victims for disparate treatment. Goodbye to equality under the law. How will a prosecutor prove that a lesbian was murdered because of her sexual orientation rather than because she refused to give the mugger her purse? Given the way case law evolves and the manner in which prosecutors advance their political careers, crimes against some types of victims will incur greater penalties, with this injustice spurring resentment.
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