The Allocation of “Hate Crimes” Dismisses Empathy

This photograph brings home the reason that I’m fundamentally opposed to the notion of “hate crimes” and, indeed, identity groups overall:

The young man in the foreground is Tyler Clementi, who recently plunged to his death from the George Washington Bridge (which spans from New Jersey to New York City), apparently as an emotional response to his college roommate’s violating his privacy to an extent so egregious as to be evil. The building in the background is Ridgewood High School, from which Tyler graduated.
If memory serves, the spot on which he is standing is within yards of the placement of the school’s polevaulting mats during track and field season, which was the vantage point from which I most frequently observed the scene. The building’s main entrance presents a beautiful, classic high school facade and, at least for a writer-type like me, readily suggests the stories for which it would stand as an apt setting. Stories of adolescent turmoil, fortitude, and growth.
My own experience of adolescence was heavily inclined toward the turmoil — largely attributable, if I’m being honest, to my unhealthy attraction to the dramatic — with fortitude manifesting only in the small degree required to lift my head sufficiently to breathe when at last I felt the ripples of drama lapping into my nostrils. As for growth, well, I was a long, long way from high school before I could claim any of that.
There’s nothing unique in this experience — as testified by the ease with which we can all raise images from literature and cinema to fill out the details. More of us than would like to make the admission can put ourselves in Tyler’s shoes as he stepped onto the bridge, and it has very little to do with the particular events and catalysts that brought him there.
By categorizing the qualities that made Tyler Clementi different, in the sense that his tragic end fits neatly in the ongoing narrative of a particular identity group, by giving that group alone a stake in his experience, such that criminal charges brought against his tormentor may be elevated on its behalf under the rationale of “hate crimes,” we cannot do otherwise than deepen our sense of social division. And that’s just the crack running along the emotional face of the matter.
The same poorly conceived understanding of self and society arises intellectually, as when we conflate the question of whether the action of Dharun Ravi (the roommate) was horribly, horribly wrong with the question of whether hate crime prosecutions and identity group legislation can maintain legal neutrality or even resolve the underlying problem. Or when the argument for same-sex marriage rests on the conclusion that homosexuals have feelings. Or when advocates for amnesty of illegal immigrants claim it as the only possible policy following the belief that immigrants are human beings with natural rights. Or when politicians from any particular group behave as if they inherently speak for all members of their demographic category.
It is an astonishing fact that so many well-meaning people assent to this strategy of forcing us to give over what truly makes us individuals. We ought rather to find it overt and offensive when public lines are drawn along differences as superficial as skin color or as private as affections. For our society to unify, and for our democracy to function in any degree, we’ll have to begin rejecting the facile — canned and processed — story lines that disclaim the possibility of deep empathy on the grounds of superficial or circumstantial differences.

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

I find “hate crimes” to be offensive becasue they punish “thought”. That is a very slippery slope, you become a criminal based on a shifting determintation by society on what you may not think (expressing that thought with action is an entirely different matter, and is a separate crime by itself). Next, “hate crimes” lend themselves to political correctness.
Look on the FBI web site, you will find that black on white “hate crimes” are about equal in number with white on black “hate crimes”. Knowing the relative sizes of the black and white populations in this country, one need not be a mathematician to determine that, per capita, blacks must commit 5-6 times the number of “hate crimes” as whites. This is necessary for the number of crimes to be about equal.
Still, when I read the Boston Globe, I note that white on black crimes are almost immediately labelled “hate crimes”. When blacks assault whites “the possibility of a “hate crime is being investigated”.
There appears to be something wrong in the application of this law, or in the news reports.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Consider the drunk driver. The ones that make it home go to work the next day, coach their kid’s games, and go about their lives as the law abiding, responsible citizen. The one that crashes, and kills somebody is public enemy number one, and is prosecuted.
The people who make fun of gays, or blacks, orientals, Hispanics, whites or whoever, or post video or compromising pictures on the internet, and nothing comes of it go about their lives. But when their action leads to suicide, or proven psychological distress, then the taunting becomes a hate crime.
That’s just the way it goes. my suggestion; don’t drive drunk and leave people who differ from you alone.

Justin Katz
10 years ago

Michael,
I’m trying, truly, but I just can’t see how your comment has any relevance to the points being made.

Justin Katz
10 years ago

Michael,
I’m trying, truly, but I just can’t see how your comment has any relevance to the points being made.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Me neither, I was commenting on the big picture, that being holding people accountable for their actions only when the outcome is dire.

William Braden
William Braden
10 years ago

How to defend against a charge of hate crime: “Honest, Your Honor, we didn’t care that he was gay (or whatever). We just decided to torture and kill him entirely at random, for the fun of it. No political message. Honest.”

Sammy
Sammy
10 years ago

Rest in peace Tyler
my condolences to the Clementi family
and to all of Tylers friends and classmates
with love
Sammy
Be well all

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Posted by William Braden
“How to defend against a charge of hate crime: “Honest, Your Honor, we didn’t care that he was gay (or whatever). We just decided to torture and kill him entirely at random, for the fun of it. No political message. Honest.”
I suspect that the desire to do violence was already there. The only question was selection of the victim.
Suppose the victim was a “sex offender”. What do you think would be the extent of public outcry. Suppose he was only part of a marginalized group, let us say a smoker producing second hand smoke. If you say this is just not likely, you haven’t met enough violent kids. I suspect few perpetrators of “hate crimes” are “adults”. As a kid, I was attacked because I am a “four eyes”; was that a “hate crime”?
Another time, I was roughed up because I was wearing a Republican campaign pin, was that a “hate crime”?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

Haha-as a kid I got beaten up and harrassed by a bigger kid across the street on a regular basis because I wore “funny shoes” to correct a foot defect and because I was weakened by polio,and it took some years of physical therapy to make me normal enough to later serve in the armed forces.
Was that a hate crime?I don’t know-what I do know is that eventually caught him roller skating and split his head open with a stickball bat and threw him down the steps into a cellar entryway where I proceeded to stomp on his face.
Now,that was done out of a few years of hate.BTW he never annoyed me again.
I guess it wasn’t a hate crime since we were both of the same ethnic background,and who knew what “gay” was back in the Fities?

Sammy
Sammy
10 years ago

Rest in peace Tyler
my condolences to the Clementi family
and to all of Tylers friends and classmates
with love
Sammy
Be well all

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

“who knew what “gay” was back in the Fities?”
Come on Joe, everyone knew. It meant you were happy.

BAM
BAM
10 years ago

In RI, and I’m sure in MA too, assault and battery on a person 60 years of age or older carries a stiffer sentence than if the victim was less than 60.
May I assume that Justin would be against this differentiation in punishment also?
I don’t think I have ever heard him address this issue although I would think that incidents of this sort would occur much more frequently in the RI justice system than gay hate crimes.
Curious.

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