Sunday, March 20, 2016

Conservative bigotry and Minnesota's proposed Hate Crime Legislation

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Whether you wear an hijab or a yamulka, whether you speak Spanish or Swahili, or some other language than English, you shouldn't have to fear hate crimes.

I came across a couple of news stories about hate crimes in Minnesota, and an interactive map of the United States showing Trump supporter violence that included one of those stories - possibly inaccurately - in Minnesota. Please see the Minnesota instance on the map below.

The incident that shows up on the map for Minnesota was the beer mug face-bashing of a Muslim woman in an Applebee's restaurant, for speaking Swahili with her family.  The same woman testified in the judiciary committee legislative hearing on hate crimes on Friday.

To be fair, while this Minnesota incident above was, clearly, a hate crime, it is far less clear that the woman who committed the crime (allegedly) is or was a Trump supporter.  She might very well have been a supporter of one of the other candidates, or perhaps none of the numerous candidates running at the time may have been sufficiently extreme for her.  (The rest of the incidents on the interactive map appear to be more legitimately committed by Trump supporters.) However the notion the USA is, or should be, exclusively English speaking is more strongly a conservative one, and conservatives tend to reject the notion of learning foreign languages as well.  I'd go further; in my experience, Americans actually expect people in other countries to speak English to them, and object to those people speaking their own language in their own country.

The conservative position appears to be because it is more often conservative extremists  who are committing the hate crimes, not because of any legitimate rationale for opposing a change to hate crime law penalties.  Apparently hate and violence are conservative 'family values' they are trying to protect, or their notion of freedom. 

It is as ludicrous to assert that any other motive exists as it is to assert that conservative obstruction of the nomination of a replacement for Scalia to the SCOTUS is about "the will of the voters".  This is particularly evident now that Merrick Garland has been nominated and the GOP in the Senate have indicated they would confirm him after November 8th, but before the newly elected members of the Senate and the new president are sworn in if they lose the 2016 election.

Over the weekend, I watched that documentary,  "KKK: the Fight for White Supremacy"; and during the week I had caught the televised hearings from the MN lege on increasing the penalties for hate crimes in Minnesota. The woman in the Applebee's incident testified at that legislative hearing. The conservative legislators in the hearing opposed any increase in hate crime penalties, effectively trying to give cover, protection from consequences and penalties, to conservative hate criminals. They argued that to make hate crimes penalties higher was to exalt the victims of hate crimes over other victims. I certainly never heard the argument that when stiffer penalties were applied for users and vendors of the form of crack cocaine over powdered cocaine in enacting drug laws, that the victims of the harsher penalized crime were 'exalted', for example.  Rather the argument was that the harsher laws were intended as a deterrent to drug activity.   (I have yet to see anyone who reasonably believes a penalty for a crime 'exalts' the victims.)

It was interesting to me that in the state lege hearing on increasing penalties for hate crimes, one of those legislators in favor of increased hate crime law documented that of the immigrants over the time of our state's existence, only 25% came from English speaking countries, while the overwhelming majority of the other 75% did not speak English when they arrived, and spoke their native language among themselves.  In other words, who we are, who we have always been, has been multi-lingual.  Even early schools taught students in Swedish, and German, and other immigrant languages, not English.

There is an established premise of severity of penalties in law operating as a deterrent to crime.  While this does not appear to be true of the death penalty, it remains the premise for all of the legislation initiated by the right to be tough on crime that has led to our high incarceration rate.

It is worth noting that in being tough on crime, our incarceration level disproportionately locks up black and Hispanic people, largely for drug crimes and drug use, which in fact are crimes more frequently committed by relatively more affluent white people.

What distinguishes the nature of a hate crime from any other individual crime is that it is a crime against an individual or individuals which intimidates and affects a greater number of people in the same group, not only the direct victim.  This can be by intent, or it can simply be an effect; but the reality is that there is a larger and broader group of secondary victims.  In a very real sense, the direct victim of a hate crime is a proxy victim for the other members of the targeted group; attacking one is a means to attack all.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the mass shooting in a predominantly black church in South Carolina last year, where the intention was to instigate a race war, which resulted in, among other effects, the removal of the civil war battle flag from state house grounds - to the disapproval of white racists.  Both the racism and the disapproval over removal of the flag, as well as the intentional intimidation of black citizens, was evident in the BBC documentary filming in South Carolina at the time of the mass shooting, "KKK: the fight for White Supremacy".  Those members who share the same targeted group as the shooting victims emphatically express being affected, as victims of intimidation, as a result of the hate crime - and it makes sense that they would do so.  Jews similarly have expressed feeling fear in response to anti-Semitic violence and hate attacks, a reasonable response, even when they were not the direct victims.

It is past the time when conservatives must stop defending and protecting hate criminals, and to start repudiating them and penalizing them.  Republicans must take back their party from extremists and tea partiers, and become a party of principles and real values again.  Let's start with the proposed law in the Minnesota legislature.

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