Two recent legislative efforts have been mounted to add police to the rolls of “disadvantaged” citizens in need of the additional shelter of “hate crime” laws. Hate crime laws are immediately problematic. They add additional punishments to criminal acts already punishable under existing laws. It’s exactly the sort of thing justice isn’t meant to be: vindictive. A murder is a murder, whether or not it was propelled by someone’s underlying biases. A threat is a threat, no matter the threatener’s personal views on race, marriage or human sexuality. Adding additional punishments solely because of a perceived motive serves no purpose other than to make those who support these laws feel like past racial/sexual wrongs are slowly being righted. The sinners of the present pay for the sins of the past sinners.
Adding police officers to this mix is not just stupid and completely antithetical to the underlying rationale of “hate crime” laws. It’s also incredibly dangerous. Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason takes a look at how hate crime laws are being deployed in other countries. What she’s found is that hate crime laws are like any other: they’re abused most frequently by those in power and deployed inconsistently to further governments’ aims.
The agency tasked with prosecuting hate speech in Kenya is called the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC); it was formed in 2008 to address ethnic conflicts in the nation. Onyando asserts that NCIC has ignored the bulk of complaints it has received and acts “more like an arm of the ruling coalition” than an independent agency, honing in only on those who speak out against the Jubilee Alliance, a coalition established in 2013 to support the candidacy of current President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.
In this case, the government only cares about hate speech when it’s on the receiving end of the hate. But this selective enforcement isn’t limited to non-Western governments with a history of corruption. It’s also happening in Europe.
Because “hate speech” is not narrowly defined, it’s up to those in power to decide what qualifies as hate and what doesn’t, and often that depends very much on both whom the speaker is and the sympathies of those in power. France has been accused of treating anti-Semitic sentiment with kid gloves while ignoring anti-Muslim expression. In the U.K., a British teenager was arrested after criticizing British military actions in Afghanistan.
So, selective enforcement should work out great when it’s cops who are targeted. Threats against law enforcement officers will be treated as exceptional crimes, even though they’re facially indistinguishable from threats made against non-uniformed individuals or groups.
The government in general is supportive of law enforcement, even when agencies’ track records indicate this trust is unearned. The selective application of hate crime/hate speech laws will almost always favor this particular “protected” group. “Hate crime/speech” sentence enhancements will be piled on top of existing sentence enhancements pertaining to the assault of government employees. Fines and bail amounts will increase dramatically.
In San Francisco, for instance, leaders recently condemned graffiti saying “No More Chinese” as hate speech. The suspected spray painter was charged with 13 crimes, including felony vandalism with a felony hate crime enhancement. “We’re exposing a man to somewhere around six years of jail time for spray painting,” said public defender Yali Corea-Levy. And while bail for felony vandalism is normally set around $25,000, the suspect’s bail awas set at $155,000. Similar outrage has not been summoned in San Fran for street art advocating the killing of hipsters or urging “techie scum” to die.
Our own government has already indicated a willingness to punish speech that “attacks” the home team. It won’t take much to persuade it to use its power against those who take aim — verbally or physically — at law enforcement professionals. These new rights won’t be equally granted. They will be used almost exclusively to ensure groups with considerable amounts of power and protection are given just a little more.