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).