Lyndon B Johnson signed a statue in 1968 that made it illegal for anyone to discriminate or cause harm to an individual or group based on their race, color, religion, or national origin. He did this to give more protection to American’s that are highly discriminated against and treated poorly for no reason in this country, and because of this law, it helped to begin a movement for all American people to feel more protected, supported, and equally treated in this country. It did so by allowing people to feel safer and more protected when being involved in public engagements such as: education, federally protected activities, activities, employment, jury service, travel, or public activities, or public help. Yet, where this law was highly needed and provided a great start to bettering this country and its efforts to prevent discrimination and violence; it still wasn’t enough and lacked specification and detail for what warranted someone to be charged with a hate-crime. In 2009, the Obama Administration passed a law that replaced and added to Johnson’s original law allowing states to better protect American people. Obama felt that the original law lacked protection for certain groups of people, so he removed the then existing jurisdictional difficulties to prosecutions of certain race- and religion-motivated violence, and further added new federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. However, where some states jumped on the opportunity to enforce the new hate-crime law, not every state did. When a state in going to pass a new law, they must first go through the legal steps to pass it, and even if it is passed, they then must jump through many different loop holes to legally charge someone with a hate-crime. In 2016, the Justice Department had charged 258 defendants for hate crimes under multiple statutes over the last seven years (U.S. Department of Justice, 2018.)
State hate crime laws impose tougher penalties on criminals who target their victims because of the victim’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. For example, if someone assaults a person solely because that person is gay, transgender, black, Hispanic, etc. the crime would likely be considered a hate crime. However, even though many states have made great efforts to pass this law and enforce it, there are still ongoing debates in some states on whether hate-crime laws should exist. This has been an ongoing debate for states such as Indiana. Indiana is one of the five remaining states that still doesn’t have a hate-crime law in place. The states legislators are in a constant disagreement on whether the state should pass the law and can’t seem to come to an agreement on how the state would implement the law if they did. Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, is in favor of the law, but the Attorney General-Curtis Hill is not in favor of the law.
There are many pros to having a hate-crime law in place for when citizens are wrongfully attacked simply because they are bothering someone for who they are or what they stand for. Many people feel that hate crimes should be looked at as being very personal and damaging to the victim. The emotional and psychological damages that the individuals and even their communities often endure should be viewed as being wrong and should be taken seriously. Some like to argue that hate will always be in this world and will always find its way. Though this statement is a fair argument, we still must try to make changes in our views and behaviors. One policy advocate acknowledged and explained, “We recognize we cannot outlaw hate. However, laws shape attitudes. And attitudes influence behavior. Strong enforcement of these laws can have a deterrent impact and limit the potential for a hate crime incident to explode into a cycle of violence and widespread community disturbances” (Henderson, 2012). When there are laws in place for these unjustifiable crimes, people will eventually begin to conform to the new laws and hopefully begin to think to themselves, “If I attack this person because they are different from me then I will be breaking the law and will have serious consequences for my actions.” It will help to get people to start thinking before acting and will make them think of the possible consequences that could follow their actions. Again, we will never live in a world without hate, but having laws against it will help to better protect our people.
Another pro to having the law is that it punishes offenders to the fullest. When someone chooses to attack someone due to their race, sexuality, gender, religion, etc. they should then be held accountable for their actions. By having this law in place, it will work to send a message to the public that such crimes will not be tolerated and there will be consequences when they happen. One advocate stated, “Anti-discrimination and hate crime laws tell us a story of how anti-trans harassment, discrimination, and violence happen. Perpetrators of violence are bad apples, and their acts are calculated and malevolent” (Florene, 2018). People who commit hate-crimes are aware of what they’re doing and should be held accountable for their actions and prosecuted to the fullest. An example of a hate crime law being beneficial was when a group of teens from Mississippi were all brought up on hate-crime charges when they intentionally targeted a black man and beat him to death because of his race. The lawmakers in this case said that the only reason they were able to charge all 10 subjects was because of the state having a hate-crime law. They said if the state wouldn’t have had this law, then they wouldn’t have been able to prosecute all the teens. This law made it possible for them to charge every teen that was involved.
States having hate-crime laws also helps to better protect minority groups and other targeted groups. Certain groups often lack societal support and tend to be more susceptible to be unfortunate targets of hate-crimes. Studies have found that society is tend to me more accepting of someone’s race than what they are of someone belonging to the LGBT community. In a study completed by Lyon’s (2006), he found in a survey that people are more sensitive to an individual’s racial status than what they are an individual’s sexual identity or orientation. This makes it extremely hard for the LGBT communities overall well-being and requires them to fight harder than most for equality. As stated by Mason (2007), “descriptions of deep moral failure can preclude an emotional response to a victim’s plight, which may clarify why the queer community has had to work to prove to the society and the criminal justice system that they are undeserving of prejudice or violence.” When we have the hate-crime laws in place it will work to better protect our more vulnerable populations. For example, the law would have helped to protect victims like Sharon Kim, a Korean-American who was born in United States. Sharon was out walking in Brooklyn, NY with her little boy who was secured to her chest when she heard a white man begin yelling racial slurs and commands at her to leave and return to her country where she belongs. Ms. Kim reports that the encounter terrified her and that she feared for her and her child’s safety (North, 2017). If her state would have had a hate-crime law in place then it would have helped to protect her more from this happening.
The laws also help to bring more diversity and encourages tolerance within your state. You don’t have to agree and or like the actions of someone else, however, you do have to be respect it. Advocates say this law will work to get people to be more tolerant which will then help to bring more peace and a feeling of safety to these groups that feel that society is against them and will have backing by their state. It will also help attract more diverse individuals and businesses to your community, which is always good for your community’s growth and prosperity. Unfortunately for Indiana, the state has possibly lost out on a major business opportunity that could really help the state to grow and bring in more jobs. Amazon was considering putting one of their main stores in Indianapolis, IN, but the company has yet to do so and legislators believe it is because the state still does not have a hate-crime law. They feel confident in their speculation, because Amazon released a statement expressing that the company finds it highly important to place their stores in areas that are welcoming to all walks of life and that strives for diversity in their state, communities, and workforce. However, Indiana legislators responded by expressing that they cannot base their state policies on whether a major business is going to open their (Cook, 2018).
Where there are many pro-hate crime advocates for the implementation of a hate-crime law in Indiana; there are also many people that are anti-hate crime laws and feel that their concerns are equally as important and relevant. One highly argued point is that it can be almost impossible to determine someone’s intent to a crime. It has also been found that most states that do have the law rarely are able to charge someone with it, because it is nearly impossible to prove someone’s motive. Algoni (2016) stated, “even though hate crime legislation exists in most states, hate crimes are rarely prosecuted, most likely because it is difficult for prosecutors to prove that a crime has been motivated by bias; Defendants will rarely provide any insight into their motivations, and offenders will rarely confess to any type of racial animus.”
Another argued point is that it makes a grey area between free speech and hate speech and can infringe on an individual’s right to freedom of speech. Opponents have suggested that such laws may contradict our First Amendment rights, because they penalize an individual’s right to freedom of speech, thoughts, and beliefs which is in violation of the constitution’s First Amendment. It is also believed that what is said during an argument can be subjective depending on the person and how one interprets the meaning behind and individual’s choice of words (Alongi, 2016).
Anti-policy advocates also have voiced that all crimes are committed due to some form of hurt or hate, and many have expressed that we already have laws in place to properly address and deal with those crimes (Dunbar & Molina, 2004). Some have even expressed that, “having a hate-crime law will also then overstep and manipulate the Double Jeopardy Clause (Alongi,2016). This clause is in place to protect individuals from being tried for the same crime twice.
Critics like Gerstenfeld (2011) claimed, “there is no universal agreement regarding which minority groups should be included in the penalty enhancement statutes, which then increases their fears even more.” He argued that this would then violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It has also been pointed out that that certain groups would then receive more protection than others, which many feels is unfair because it would then be giving more protection to certain groups.
There are may pros and cons to this debate. I feel that it is something both sides feel very passionate about and bring solid arguments to the table when discussing why the state should or should not have a law for hate-crimes. I personally feel that Indiana would benefit from this law. I feel that it would help to bring us together more as a state and would help our people to find more compassion and tolerance in their hearts. I feel that it is important for all Americans to feel that they can be free to express their true selves and live the life they choose without fear of what could happen to them. A gay couple should be able to walk down the street holding hands the same way a straight couple walks down the street holding hands. They should not have to fear being taunted, harassed, or attacked because they are choosing to love freely and live freely in a country that stands for freedom. I understand that we will never live in a world where hate does not exist; however, I do believe that laws help to shape behaviors and even though people still break them daily, they have proven to help prevent people many of our citizens from committing them. I also feel that such laws will help to better shape our youth and make them more accepting of others. I work with children every day that have been rejected and bullied relentlessly because they are different from their peers and don’t fit the societal “norm.” The bullies often don’t see anything wrong with their actions and lack remorse for what they did. Where I want to get mad at the bullies, I honestly can’t because these behaviors and beliefs have been learned. Kids don’t come out with hateful hearts, it is learned. If our society gets better about being more accepting and compassionate towards all individuals and groups, then imagine what that would do for our youth and their young minds.
One area where I will defend the cons is when they speak about our first amendment. I feel that these laws would have to still protect other groups of people and their right to believe and practice the way they want. For example, I would never expect for a Christian to believe that being gay is acceptable or that they must agree with it. I feel this way because it is their belief system and their right as an American to practice and believe the way they want to. However, I also don’t believe that this gives a Christian the right to discriminate or shun someone for being gay. I am a Christian myself and one of my family’s dearest friends is gay and we love and accept him unconditionally. We choose to, because in the bible it says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, because there is no greater commandment greater than these.” This is something I always keep fresh in my mind, because it is so true. I tell myself all the time “you are a Christian and you are a sinner and no sin is less than that of a stranger.” Some feel that you have to choose between being a Christian or loving a homosexual, transgender, someone from a different religion, culture or race, etc. but I do not believe that because God is love.
Indiana has expressed hopes that the state can come to an agreeance on the policy and that they want our state to strive for more acceptance, compassion, and tolerance. Policy advocates, both for and against, have equally expressed their desires to serve their state regardless of an individual’s background and have hopes that they can come to an agreement.
- Alongi, B. (2016). The Negative Ramifications of Hate Crime Legislation: It’s Time to Reevaluate Whether Hate Crime Laws are Beneficial to Society. Pace Law Review, 37(1), 326–351.
- Ashley, F. (2018). Don’t Be so Hateful: The Insufficiency of Anti-Discrimination and Hate Crime Laws in Improving Trans Well-Being. University of Toronto Law Journal, 68(1), 1–36. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/10.3138/utlj.2017-0057
- Cook, T. (2018, January 30). Indiana lawmakers kill hate crimes bill again. Retrieved from https://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2018/01/30/indiana-lawmakers-kill-hate-crimes-bill-again/1078013001/
- Cramer, R. J., Laxton, K. L., Chandler, J. F., Kehn, A., Bate, B. P., & Clark, J. W. (2017). Political identity, type of victim, and hate crime‐related beliefs as predictors of views concerning hate crime penalty enhancement laws. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (ASAP), 17(1), 262–285. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/10.1111/asap.12140
- Do Hate Crime Laws Often Violate the Right to Free Speech? – ACLU Pros & Cons – ProCon.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://aclu.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000743
- Dunbar, E., & Molina, A. (2004). Opposition to the Legitimacy of Hate Crime Laws: The Role of Argument Acceptance, Knowledge, Individual Differences, and Peer Influence. Analyses of Social Issues & Public Policy, 4(1), 91–113. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/10.1111/j.1530-2415.2004.00036.x
- Hate Crime Laws. (2017, July 28). Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/crt/hate-crime-laws
- North, A. (2017, June 01). The Scope of Hate in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/opinion/hate-crime-lebron-james-college-park-murder.html
- The Fairness of Hate Crime Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/03/07/are-hate-crime-laws-necessary/bias-laws-ensure-action-against-hate
- Valcore, J. L. 1. valcorej@uhd. ed. (2018). Sexual Orientation in State Hate Crime Laws: Exploring Social Construction and Criminal Law. Journal of Homosexuality, 65(12), 1607–1630. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.usf.edu/10.1080/00918369.2017.1380992
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