Hate Crime and Antidiscrimination Laws
Although hate crime laws were first introduced after the American Civil War, the modern era of protection began in 1968 with the passage of Title 18 U.S.C. 245. This bill enabled federal agents the power to prosecute crimes based on race, color, creed, or religion. The law was designed to prevent violence or intimidation against protected citizens during their attempt to engage in one of six federally protected activities. In the past 40 years, the rates of violent crime, discrimination, and intimidation against persons based on race creed or color have decreased dramatically, yet at the same time other bases for hate crime and discrimination have evolved. Over the years, individual states have sought to augment Title 18 U.S.C. 245 by passing their own hate crime and anti-discrimination legislation. These changes have included both expansion of protected activities, as well as addition of more protected groups. Race, color, and national origin have given way to sexual orientation and gender identity, but the rate of legislation has been slow. To date, 30 of the 50 states have enacted legislation to protect 'alternative lifestyles', yet only 12 of those laws include gender identity as well as sexual orientation. Although some believe the transgendered are not in need of legal protections, transgendered people are subject to more discrimination than other minorities.
While hate crime and anti-discrimination laws were designed to prevent open hatred and bigotry, they have been met with resistance and controversy almost from their inception. The Libertarian, personal freedom and personal responsibility loving members of the American populace rails against the idea of hate crime legislation, using the argument that all crime is inherently a hate crime, and legislating against intent or state of mind is treading down a slippery slope toward thought crime, or violations against a citizen's First Amendment rights with hate speech legislation. Jesse Larner states, "The viciousness of an attack on a transsexual may indeed be the perpetrator’s response to the victim’s gender identity, a response expressing the desire that all transsexuals be dead. But the law does not have to take account of the attacker’s wishes or beliefs in sentencing—only of the level of violence employed." (hate crime/thought crime, Dissent, spring 2010). Conversely, supporters of hate crime and anti-discrimination laws posit that hate crimes are more dangerous to society, as non-bias motivated crimes have much less much less change of inciting riots and other major events than hate crimes. Michael Lieberman (Washington Counsel for the Anti-Defamation League) writes, " When these crimes do occur, we must send an unmistakable message that they matter, that our society takes them very seriously. Hate crime laws demonstrate an important commitment to confront and deter criminal activity motivated by prejudice. Like antidiscrimination laws, hate crime statutes are content-neutral, color-blind mechanisms that appropriately allow society to redress a unique type of wrongful conduct in a manner that reflects that conduct’s seriousness." (Hate Crime Laws: Punishment to Fit the Crime Dissent Summer 2010 ) Whether due to a change in social attitudes or a direct result of hate crime and anti-discrimination laws, the prevalence of bias motivated crime and discrimination has decreased since the inception of these types of legislation. Lynching, cross burning, intimidation and open discrimination against African American citizens have dropped considerably since the first Reconstruction-era laws were passed. Recent events (namely the 9/11 attacks) have resulted in a downward trend in public sentiment toward Muslims and Arabs, and proponents of hate crime legislation argue that having these laws on the books will help keep society from degenerating into the madness of another McCarthyism or Salem Witch Trial. The perceived...
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