A group of young people appear to have kidnapped another young man and tortured him. The suspects reference the victim’s race and alleged support for a recently elected politician as they assault him and force him to drink toilet water, kiss the floor, and repeat several phrases. All of this appears to have been done at knifepoint. The attack was broadcast live on Facebook, and the victim is mentally challenged.
The Chicago Police Department has declined to presume that this act was motivated by race or political ideology as of yet, although many on social media are screaming for it to be investigated as such.
According to my understanding of hate crimes and what I saw with my own two eyes in several video clips floating around the internet, the criminal act perpetrated could indeed be considered a hate crime.
But according to my moral compass, it should not be. This is because there should be no such thing as a hate crime at all, and I have two main reasons for this. The first is that convicting criminals based on their racial or ideological motivation embodies the same violation as committing a crime based on someone’s race or ideology. Like the eye-for-an-eye justice system of old, using discrimination to fight discrimination is hypocritical and barbaric. We are individuals, not members of subjective social groups. And neither our beliefs nor our physical features (nor those of our victims) should excuse or exaggerate our unwarranted acts of violence. If a man kills another man because he hates his success, he is a murderer. If he kills another man because he hates that man’s skin color, he is a murderer too. The particular motivation one has for harming his fellow man is irrelevant. If we want people to treat others as equals regardless of what pointless category they fall under, we should start at the authoritarian levels of government and police by abolishing the legal legitimacy of hate crimes.
The second reason is that hate is not a crime. Hate is your right. You are free to love the Red Sox and hate the Yankees. You are free to love chocolate and hate vanilla. You are free to love Rihanna and hate Beyoncé. And you are free to love Bernie Sanders and hate Donald Trump. You are also free to feel nothing or have mixed feelings about anything previously mentioned.
Associating an emotion, something humans should not be expected to control or encouraged to suppress, with a criminal act is on par with the thought policing of George Orwell’s 1984. While thoughts and feelings are not the same, both generally come to us involuntarily. We can choose to sit down and think about something, and we can stimulate our emotions as actors do when filming dramatic scenes. But for the most part, what pops in your head or your heart is not up to you. The world around us arouses our thoughts and feelings. If we see a malnourished puppy, we feel sad. If we smell a favorite stew, we remember our grandmother’s house where we used to eat it. The world comes first. We just react to it.
While racist thoughts and feelings and the like are deplorable, they are not criminal. We cannot be held accountable for that which we cannot control, and we can never be held accountable for our thoughts or feelings as depraved and misplaced as they may be. It is our actions that we must be expected to control. And that is why a racist crime is no better and no worse than a crime of a non-racist variety. It is the action, not the accompanying thought or feeling that violates another man’s rights.
If one assaults another and references his shirt, and one assaults another and references his eye shape, two equal assaults have been committed.
If one vandalizes the property of another and leaves swastikas behind, and one vandalizes the property of another and leaves nothing behind, two equal acts of property damage have been committed.
If one becomes enraged and kills another because of his preferred flavor of ice cream, and one becomes enraged and kills another because of his preferred sexual partner, two equal acts of murder have been committed.
Let’s stop policing undesirable thoughts, so we can do a better job of policing inhumane actions.