Jim DeMint fears Orwell, thought, compassion

I honestly didn’t know people still actively worked to defeat hate crime legislation. I thought it had become sort of passé, like segregated lunch counters or Native American genocide.

Yet, there are still people in the U.S. Senate–29 of them, in fact–who voted against the latest addition to the federal hate crime law1. One of those people is South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.

DeMint was my Congressman for a while and is now my Senator. I interviewed him countless times and traveled in his circles for several years. I feel comfortable I know from whence the man is coming. Still, when I read this from the New York Times, I couldn’t help but shake my head.

Opponents argued to no avail that the new measure was unnecessary in view of existing laws and might interfere with local law enforcement agencies. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said he agreed that hate crimes were terrible. “That’s why they are already illegal,” Mr. DeMint said, asserting that the new law was a dangerous, even “Orwellian” step toward “thought crime.”

Thought crime? Yeah, it seems a little silly of a phrase, but DeMint’s wont is to parrot it the talking points from the Family Research Council. This come directly from the FRC’s position paper on hate crime legislation:

Why do you call them “thought crimes”?

Violent attacks upon people or property are already illegal, regardless of the motive behind them. With “hate crime” laws, however, people are essentially given one penalty for the actions they engaged in, and an additional penalty for the politically incorrect thoughts that allegedly motivated those actions.

Ah, so the FRC (and, by extension, DeMint) are concerned about additional penalties being assigned based on the motive for a crime. I find that interesting, because there are laws on the books that do the same thing for other motives.

For instance, some sex crime laws allow for steeper punishments when the sexual assault is perpetrated on a child. The same goes for the murder of a police officer or other public official. In fact, here is one section of South Carolina’s list of aggravating circumstances that allows for the death penalty in a murder case (with my emphasis added):

…the murder of a judicial officer, former judicial officer, solicitor, former solicitor, or other officer of the court during or because of the exercise of his official duty

.

In both of the above cases, steeper punishments are assigned to crimes based on the alleged motive and target (the FRC and DeMint’s so-called “thoughts”). I can’t help but wonder if DeMint would vote against a law protecting police officers and children from people who attack them based on who they are…because after all, a rape is a rape, even if it’s against a child, and police officers deserve no greater protection from the law than average citizens…right, Senator?

Of course, we should probably understand DeMint’s position. He comes from South Carolina, one of just a handful of states (five or less by my count) that have no hate crime legislation. That is, in the Palmetto State, you can attack a man based only on the fact he is black, Christian, homosexual, or handicapped and receive no greater penalty than if you attacked him for any other reason.

America creates its laws based on what it finds distasteful and wrong. Our system of laws is based on our perception of right and wrong and how people should be penalized for disregarding societal conventions. We base our penalties on an occasionally arbitrary system of how many degrees of wrong something is. We have decided, at least in some cases, that motive can play a role in the severity of a punishment.

So, ask yourself Senator, which is more abhorrent: Punching a guy in the nose because he spilled beer on your wife or punching a guy in the nose because he is homosexual?

If you think they are the same thing, exchange the word homosexual for “Christian” or “American” and see if it makes you think any differently.

1. The actual vote was on the conference report for H.R. 2647 (National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010).

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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7 Responses

  1. Mean Gene says:

    I’m of two minds on this–it’s not illegal to be a bigot/racist/sexist and it shouldn’t be. If you make it against the law to be a scumbag you set yourself skidding on a slippery slope indeed. The problem with hate crime laws is determining a person’s motivation when a crime is committed, and that’s a tall order. I think hate crime laws could be useful when there’s an obvious premeditation (firebombing a black church, thugs attacking people at a gay rights march, etc) but applying those laws could present serious ethical dilemmas for judicial officers with ethics and serious opportunities for abuse by officers without ethics.

  2. otis says:

    Gene: Completely agree. Hate speech is and should be protected. I don’t wannna hear it, but people have a right to say whatever they want. But, I think the requirement to prove motive in a hate crime is exactly what makes it such a good law. Prosecutors who do not have enough proof that a particular brand of hate was a the motive would be smart to not go forward with prosecution under a hate crime statute. Sure, a statute can be abused, but find an unethical officer of the court and he’ll find a way to abuse the most benign of laws.

  3. Special K says:

    I don’t think your examples of laws that protect police and children are enough like the current hate crime legislation to make your point valid. We do give additional protection to police because we ask them to do a job for us that makes them a bigger target to those folk the police protect us from. We make exceptions for children as they, by definition, are less able to protect themselves than most adults. I think both of those examples are more about who the potential victim is rather than what is on the mind of the criminal.

    I am sure that I will not get the same protection that a black or gay man would get if I were assaulted by a WASP hating bigot. See http://www.vdare.com/malkin/090604_injustice.htm and http://www.thepoliticalcesspool.org/jamesedwards/2009/06/19/black-lesbians-murder-man-for-being-heterosexual/ and http://www.sfexaminer.com/opinion/columns/gregory_kane/Dont-ignore-hate-crimes-against-whites-50988987.html There are plenty of examples of minorities committing violent crimes against non-minorities and not getting the hate-crime prosecution. This law is just bigotry in another form. I oppose bigotry in all forms and therefore, this legislation.

  4. Three thoughts:
    You said, “sex crime laws allow for steeper punishments when the sexual assault is perpetrated on a child. The same goes for the murder of a police officer or other public official.” I don’t agree that the penalties you mentioned are higher because of motive, I think they are higher because in both those cases the victims require a higher level of protection.

    You also asked, “which is more abhorrent: Punching a guy in the nose because he spilled beer on your wife or punching a guy in the nose because he is homosexual?” I think both ACTS are equally abhorrent, the motives are not equal for me, but someone else might feel differently.

    Lastly, I am worried about this law because I saw what happened after 9/11 when many who questioned the government were considered unpatriotic. When we start to codify what people are allowed to think, I am extremely worried that we will one day face a time when merely thinking certain things will be illegal. I don’t think it’s a “slippery slope,” this law doesn’t guaranty that thoughts will become crimes, it’s just one step down a path. But it is a step that troubles me very deeply.

  5. Gamecock says:

    There are plenty against hate crime legislation for legitimate reasons.

    Andrew Sullivan, a prominent homosexual, makes an excellent argument on why hate legislation makes those they seek to protect into victims:

    http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/19990926mag-hate-essay.html

  6. otis says:

    Well, suffice to say I respect some of the above arguments and I’m glad people are at least thinking.

  7. Random101 says:

    Otis,

    I would tend to agree with your argument in the case of non-violent crimes that involve harassment or intimidation. For example: the burning of a cross in someone’s front yard is much more than a case of vandalism or trespassing.

    However, in the case of violent crimes I find the Senator’s position more compelling. I can’t improve on the arguments made above. If a person feels they are in a mistreated group, then any crime committed against them will be a hate crime from their point of view. I also think that hate crime legislation is sometimes used as remedy for inequality in sentencing.

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