One of the defining aspects of our nation and of democracy, in general, is the central role that laws and statutes play in regulating our behavior in relation to our fellow citizens. Implicit in this is the assumption that the law will be applied equally to all. Over the past several decades, however, a campaign has been afoot to increase the penalties for crimes based on intolerance towards a historically oppressed group.
Supporters of these changes argue that these groups, whether based on religion, race or sexual orientation, are particularly vulnerable to these crimes due to their status. The state has an obligation to deter these crimes, and hate-crimes legislation is one tool for doing so.
Detractors from this legislation argue that the crimes involved are already illegal, and increasing the penalties for crimes targeted at one group of people or another is unfair, essentially giving them rights not available to the public at large. Opponents of hate-crime legislation also point to a number of high-profile instances in which these penalties have been turned on their head, to charge an African American with a hate crime against a white man, for example, as reason why this type of legislation is a bad idea.
Do you believe that hate-crime legislation plays a role in deterring crimes against protected groups? Are other approaches to this issue, that avoid the problems above, possible? By increasing the penalties for a crime committed against a specific group of people, is our government essentially creating special rights, or simply recognizing the need to protect people from the prejudices of the majority?
This Week’s Articles
- Hate Crimes: Why You Should Care
- Who Needs Hate?
- Arguments about hate crime legislation
- Hate-Crime Follies
SPEAKER ANNOUNCMENT: Café Society is pleased to host Yasmin Nair as a special guest speaker.
Yasmin Nair is a local academic, activist, and freelance writer. She contributes to Windy City Times, Identity and Clamor magazine, among others. Her areas of interest include contemporary queer politics, gender politics, and globalization. Her ongoing work includes a historical overview of hate crimes legislation and its link to the death penalty.
For more informaiton, please contact Kristin Millikan at 312.422.5580.