The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
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    Why Hate Violence and Hate Crimes Are 'Special'

    I am hoping that this discussion of what hate violence legislation is, and the underpinnings of it, will address the questions (and scoffing) I know are happening across the country as it is once more at the top of the news. I am a survivor of hate violence, and I have friends who have experienced hate violence, two of whom were murdered. My experiences inform me that many people, especially white people, not only do not understand the need for hate legislation, but who actually see it as "special" treatment. It is not, and I hope the following article helps explain why it is important.

    In years of teaching I heard repeated times "Why are crimes against some people special? A crime is a crime and they shouldn't get special treatment." So I am sure that across this nation, in the wake of a series of hate driven crimes, people are asking the same question. Almost invariably it is white people asking that question because minorities of almost all categories "get" what hate crimes are.

    Among the three most recent events - sending pipe bombs to people identified by Trump as 'enemies', the execution of two African Americans in Kentucky, and the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh -  only two currently qualify as "hate" crimes under the federal designation, the murders in Kentucky and the attacks at Tree of Life synagogue. This is because only certain bias driven speech and crimes are designated under federal law, and those are ones where the victim(s) are attacked because of the  victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin. The Act also extends federal hate crime prohibitions to crimes committed because of the actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person. The gender and disability categories are not consistently included under bias crimes, and age (while critical) is only considered at the upper end. Regardless, while the attempted assassinations via pipe bombs were driven by hate, political affiliation is not covered under any bias legislation that I know of.

    The real issue that too many do not understand is why there are special penalties assigned to certain crimes and not to others. What makes bias or hate crimes different is two fold. First, the target is chosen because of association (or perceived association) with a specified group or class of people. Second, the message that is sent by the actions has little or nothing to do with the victim or target, but to the group or class. In other words, people or places are targeted because of the perceived group affiliation and that the action is a threat to the entire group. For example, an assumed Hispanic man is attacked at a bus stop and the attackers are yelling "Stay out of our neighborhood you fucking greaser (or other slur)!". In hate crimes, the attack happens because of identification and it serves as a warning or threat to all folks in that category. It is this feature of bias crimes that takes them beyond the individual victim to an injury to the group.

    In the recent events, the attempted assassinations of Trump's designated "enemies" is a hateful act, but does not qualify as a bias crime - at least not directly. One thing that could change this is that many of these folks (individually and collectively) are accused by Trump to be recruiting, encouraging, coordinating, etc, the entrance of undocumented people into the United States (and other race and origin issues) . He has also tagged the immigrants in both a racist and xenophobic manner. Therefore these 'enemies' of Trump are "allies" of these immigrants so by extension the assassination attempts could possibly be covered by hate crime legislation. Thus far I have not heard this argument being made.

    For all of the existence of hate violence legislation, it is actually applied very rarely. This is because while in the prosecution of crimes in general there is focus on intent - was it the intent to harm, for example - but with hate crimes motivation must be demonstrated, and that is a much higher bar. Unless there is obvious evidence of bias (for example, Robert Bower screaming something like "All Jews must die!", or leaving other direct evidence of bias, or confessing to bias, then it is difficult to prove motivation. Simply committing a crime where the individual, group, organization, or place, is clearly within the bias guidelines does not mean that a hate charge will be made.

    Why These Categories/Classes?

    It is quite reasonable to ask "Why these categories or classes?" When the issues of discrimination came to be adjudicated under federal law, the original classes were race, color, religion, or national origin. It was well demonstrated that both in terms of cultural prejudices, as well as in terms of institution laws, policies, and practices, that people had been discriminated against because of their race or color or national origin (at some points in our history that has been the same thing), and religion (most particularly this has impacted Native Americans, non-Christian Asians, and Catholics). In other words, these social statuses have been (and are) clear components of the social stratification system in the United States. More recently, sex, sexual orientation, gender, and disability have been added to this list. This is not because we just "discovered" that there are structural barriers and cultural prejudices against people based upon their sex, sexual orientation, etc, but because these biases are so deeply embedded that there has been great resistance to formally acknowledging this problem area.

    One of the areas that is a major component of our systems of inequality is social class, but there is even greater resistance to looking at structural inequality based on socio-economic status than there was to sexual orientation (which took the torture and death of Matthew Shepherd to move Congress). It is unlikely that class will be added as the myth in the U.S. is that class is tied to individual effort as we purportedly live in a meritocracy, but that is another (series of) article all on its own.

    We have systemic and systematic inequality in the United States. This means that inequality / oppression/ prejudice and discrimination, is integrated deeply into our culture and way of life (meaning systemic). That inequality is systematic means it is not random, but follows patterns that are identifiable and even predictable. Part of the system is that certain characteristics have taken on meaning that places us within the system (status). WHAT characteristics are most prevalent at any time or era may vary, and what those characteristics mean may change, but the characteristics as "identifiers" are remarkably persistent. In the United States, race and national origin (which have been intimately intertwined throughout our history), religion (once again, something that has reordered itself over time, but persists), and sex.

    Religion and hate

    Religion Fanning Hate. Westboro Baptists Picketing a Jewish Community Center. By Arizona Lincoln, 2010).


    Whether we are discussing hate or discrimination or prejudice/bias, they all are grounded within our system of culture (values and rules of interaction, shared understandings) and social structure (our social institutions such as family, political order, economic system, laws and justice, education, etc). Therefore, when we talk about hate violence or speech, discrimination in any form, or affirmative action, it focuses around these same statuses or categories.

    Universality and Privilege

    It is critical to understand that EVERYONE within our society has these statuses in the "protected classes". We all have a race and national origin, sex, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation, abilednss and disabledness. Therefore the legislation (such as affirmative action, anti-discrimination, hate legislation) applies to us all - not just to those who are not white, not male, not heterosexual, or not of able bodied and mind. This is the universality of these socially important statuses.

    The other critical component to understanding both our system of structured inequality, and legislation aimed at addressing it, is that there are also structured "winners". Inequality and discrimination occurs in a framework of privilege and disprivilege. If a certain status is the definition of "equal", then equality is a a myth. Those things we identify as attaching to "equal" are in fact a privilege. They are a privilege that attaches to status and while we may embody that status, the things that attach to it belong to the "group", or status, and not to us personally. For example, if we say that being treated with respect, dealt with politely, and trusted, is the norm (what it means to be treated equal) - the way that "people" are treated, but only those of certain statuses are the ones who regularly experience this, then we are looking at privilege. Being treated politely and trusted is largely the gifts of privilege given to whites, white males, and white heterosexuals who are able bodied and seem mentally "normal" and "stable". It is frequently not the experience of everyone else. People with status privilege generally think that they are treated the way they are because of their personal character, personality, hard work, etc. The reality is quite different and that is very hard for people with status privilege to understand - or admit.

    Resistance to Dealing with Systematized Inequality

    We will consistently be unable to successfully address inequality, and the highly negative outcomes of it, until we understand and accept privilege and what it means. Privilege is the background on which all inequality is painted. People with privilege are all too often in high denial that it exists, or that they benefit from it. A major part of the socialization into privilege is that everything you have, they way you are treated, etc, are all due to your personal character and actions. Further, is the socialization that everyone is operating under the same rules, we have a level playing field, and particularly at this time in our nation, that any inequality or prejudice that exists is personal in nature.

    This belief in the myth that we have somehow arrived at a state of "equality" creates a slew of problems. It means that any legislation to address inequality is perceived as actually disadvantaging the privileged, or giving some unfair positive consideration and treatment to those who "don't deserve it". Claims of "reverse discrimination" are a prime example of this mentality, and also reflect a complete (and willful) misunderstanding that the privileged are as protected by anti-bias legislation as lower status groups. This can generate anger, and people will feel that their anger is legitimated by this "unfair" situation. They see themselves as "victims" of the constructed system, and in fact, may identify the government as an enemy.

    Our inability to deal with our full system of structured inequality also leaves us ripe for the picking for manipulation by fear tactics and scapegoating. We are more likely to believe claims that fit within the stereotype and negative propaganda. Trump, and a variety of groups who support and benefit from his antics, are playing this to the hilt with their attacks on immigrants and claims that they are criminals, disease ridden, and are invading "us". We therefore are legitimated in our actions to "defend" ourselves. This deliberate manipulation of cultural bias and fears are then linked to other stereotypes. Such as Democrats, or Jews and Democrats, are actually paying the invaders (or protestors), etc.

    Frankly,  the rhetoric is getting uglier and uglier, and while horrendous, it is not surprising that we are seeing a wild increase in acts of hate.


    We are at a critical point in our history, and frankly the history of the world. As people's general insecurity increases, the susceptibility to the politics of fear, scapegoating and hatred increase. Across the planet right wing, nationalist, fascists are rising. The way to address this is not by falling into armed camps, but by stretching our empathy and working hard to build community. We are at a fracture point. Will we break, or will we work to address the many issue that are driving our insecurity? Will we address the rampant economic inequality where the top .01% is getting 90% of everything? Will we address the fact that money is not truly voice, but that our voices must be heard? Will we deal with both the growing impacts of global warming, but also quit engaging in behavior that is accelerating that warming? Will we acknowledge and address the fundamental inequality and biases of the justice system? Will we address that our foreign policies are driving inequality, war, and destruction across the planet?

    We are facing a criticality. Which way will we take?



    Silent Witness, violence

    Silent Witness
    Behind closed doors she hides - herself and what she has become, the cuts, the bruises, the angry words said that should never be undone.
    But luckily she lives and so forgives "Him" that "He" may go on to do the same again to "Her" another day.
    And so on she goes broken like a fallen doll in this distress, in this godforsaken mess.
    (A silent witness by The Naked Ape)




    First, how welcome it is to see you post a blog entry here again!

    Second, on topic, did you see the news item about ROSENSTEIN ANNOUNCES NEW WEBSITE FOR HATE CRIMES REPORTING ? What do you think about it?

    I'm sorry to  write at this early stage of the  intensive important discussion  that no doubt will come and deservedly so. Thanks for starting that process. I'm not going to be a useful contributor to it. 

    Here's what I think.

    Like everyone else here I agree with you, of course , that bad things that happen. But not why,

     There is structured inequality. And there are hate crimes.

    Does A causes B?  

    When the  Hutu killed the Tutsi why was that ? And when previously the Tutsi killed the Hutu , why? . As when  the Myanamar Government  persecutes Islamicists. Or vice versa,  

    People do bad things and do good ones. Under every circumstance, If conditions are good, and they're happy ,  they'll   still do bad things . Maybe just not as many bad things as they do when  they are unhappy.

    If there were no inequality would there be no hate crimes? Or would there be more because with no inequality generations of inventors wouldn't have had whatever incentive caused them to  invent semi conductors ? And we'd all be frustrated waiting for the election returns  by Morse code.

    Hi Flavius,

    Thanks for the welcome back. I am trying to get back into the swing of writing. It has been a rough year.

    Every society has its own forms of structured inequality that are integrated into both the culture and social institutions. While all have structured inequality, all are not equally unequal.

    All of this becomes more complicated in societies that have lived under colonial rule because you have the overlay of an external, frequently quite different society. Further, colonial powers frequently selected a specific group, often one of lower status, to serve as its proxies. Why the lower status? Because they could only hold power with the help of the colonial power. Further, culturally (and territorially) distinct groups got lumed into new boundaries - many of which are still not accepted nor recognized by some of the populations. The tribal people on the  Afghanistan - Pakistan border come to mind. They refuse to acknowledge the national boundaries (drawn by the Brits) and still go back and forth across that border.

    Further, peoples got displaced and then moved en masse into another society's domain - Kosovo comes to mind.

    All these things create deep seated conflicts that can be very bloody.

    Hate crimes

    Not all societies have hate crimes. It is a legal classification.

    Most societies have the level of diversity that is found in the United States which is primarily comprised of groups from all over rather than a "native" population that has been here for thousands of years (Our Indigenous peoples the obvious exception).

    Inequality does not need to be enforced with brutality, and most is not so enforced.

    While I think that it is possible to have an equal society, I think that it takes conscious decisions and the commitment to address the sometimes subtle, and frequently deepseated to the point of unconsciousness, assignment of privilege and disprivilege.

    I think it is way past time that the FBI set up a standard collection strategy for documenting hate crimes. The sad truth is that hate crimes are not only under reported by victims, but many jurisdictions do not either collect or report the the crimes that do occur.

    There's this idea that in normal criminal legislation a crime is a crime and hate crime legislation is different. But that's just not so. Motive is considered in every type of crime and affects the punishment. That's why there's not just a crime of murder but first and second degree, or manslaughter etc. If I kill my mother it matters why. Was she dying and in constant pain? Did she beg me to put her out of her misery? Was it unintentional when I pushed her during an argument? Or did I come up with an elaborate plan because I wanted her money? It's the same with hate crime legislation. If I kill a gay man it matters why.

    I agree entirely.  My only objection to almost any of these types of laws is that prosecutors use them to over-charge people, in order to force sometimes innocent defendants into taking pleas. So while hate crimes laws make all sorts of sense to me, I do think it's too easy for a prosecutor to tell a defendant, "if you take this to trial, I'll ask for a hate crimes conviction and you'll get life..."

    That's a problem with the criminal justice system even when hate crimes aren't involved. Prosecutors find several violations for a single crime to force plea bargains. I haven't seen a statistical analysis but I doubt that hate crimes legislation is commonly abused in that way. I'd guess it's less used then loading up the charges with conventional crimes. Hate crimes legislation is controversial and when used can create public push back. I'd guess it's used less often than appropriate. Just guesses, I could be wrong.

    FWIW Rosenstein in his announcement of the website was basically claiming that local authorities basically don't know how to access the federal system for doing it and that's why the reporting is too low. Hence, the website to make it easier.

    But bringing this up makes me think of what a mess the local criminal justice system is in many areas, how they are overworked already hence the whole popularity of plea bargaining to avoid going to court and having to try cases. Makes me suspicious Rosenstein is not entirely correct in that they don't know how, it's more like they don't have the time and don't want to access Federal bureaucracy? Unless it is especially heinous which often makes a prosecutor really care. Involving the Feds means: more work? Just that simple? So the lower level things like a swaztika on a synagogue doesn't get prosecuted as a hate crime?

    It's a similar syndrome with cops who don't want to have to do the damn paperwork so they don't arrest but do this or that instead?

    I suspect this is all true... the disarray AA describes at the local level and, as ocean kat says, that prosecutors always overcharge where they can... but my point about both is that our laws probably need to be fewer and simpler.

    Who could object to the concept that the laws should be simpler. But the fundamental need is to prevent prosecutors from misusing  their power to extort confessions. 

    However simple the laws they'll  continue to include  severe punishments . For use by prosecutors only for  prosecuting offences meriting such punishment.

    I sadly agree.

    The question has always been is there a way to rehabilitate rather than just incarcerate. While occasionally progressives can cite some modest success when rehabilitation has been attempted there's never been enough resources applied to the problem to answer that question. I'm afraid there never will be.

    Yeah, this is sadly overlooked.  Our system is too much about retribution and punishment.  This is also a place where I'm skeptical of hate crimes laws, even though I large agree they are necessary -- I just don't think the problem with our system is that people aren't being punished enough.

    I don't recall anything serious about rehabilitation in decades - seems the eye-for-an-eye philosophy won out.

    There has been a war on effective rehab - namely things like education and skills training. There was an uproar that prisoners were getting a "free" education.

    Of Course, the the better thing is to address inequality and the things that tear apart families and communities. Then focus on diversion, then effective punishments and rehab.

    We are so weak on the front end, do little in the middle, and even have life imprisonment and death penalty for children.

    It is important to allow all the possible lives to happen in order to provide more people to shoot later.

    I believe that legally there is a difference between INTENT and MOTIVE. I am not a lawyer, but it is my understanding that the varying levels of say murder are largely intent. It is my understanding that the Hate addition is rarely used because it can be very difficult to prove that bias motivated the crime. Further, the MAJOR difference between hate crimes and all other crimes is that the victim is selected because of their socially assumed characteristics, and that such crimes are intended to send a message to the group. This makes them very different than other categories of crime.

    short break for an inspirational--

    Thank you for sharing this.

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