Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bias Crimes are Message Crimes

I was talking the other day to someone about hate, bias, violence, racism, and the methods that people and groups use to intimidate others. Today I saw a great post by David Neiwert of Orcinus. Neiwert has been writing brilliantly for years on the issues that I was discussing.

What I especially like about this post are the following things.

1) Neiwert explains what "hate crimes" really are, and he points out the willfull ignorance of some people (in this case Don Surber when it comes to the definition of what we have been calling hate crimes.

But even more important, most people who write about hate-crimes laws are aware that the term is something of a misnomer; what we call "hate crimes" are in fact known in the law as "bias crimes" -- crimes committed with a motivation of bias (racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, or gender) against the perceived class of the victim.

And to suggest that all violent crimes are bias crimes is, well, just plain ignorant. Crimes are committed out of a plenitude of motivations, and ethnic/religious/sexual biases constitute only a narrow band of them. Evidently, Surber is unaware of this.

He goes on to display even more ignorance:

Crime is the last segregated business in America. Most black crime victims are victims of blacks. White criminals generally pick white victims. If you are killed by a person of another color, does that make you more dead?

It seems that Surber labors under what's becoming an increasingly common misconception about how hate-crime laws work. They're not about interracial crime or, more generally, inter-identity crime. They're about, once again, bias crimes.


Hate crimes are message crimes: They are intended to harm not just the immediate victim, but all people of that same class within the community. Their message is also irrevocable: they are "get out of town, nigger/Jew/queer" crimes.

Read the whole post here. And if you want to discuss the topic intelligently that is a great place to do it. And, if you feel the need to play games launching your own views about what is or isn't a bias crime and what is or isn't an effective message to send about that kind of crime, please do it over at Dave's place. He really is an expert and along with Sara Robinson much better at helping people clarify their thinking on the topic. But if you willful use lame arguments like Surber's expect to be challenged.

Oh and while you are at it, buy one or more of Dave's books.

Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community

Strawberry Days will be especially interesting for people who watched Ken Burn's feature "The War" and it will also be good to read in case the government decides that all brown people who look like terrorists need to be rounded up based on no data other than their faith or browness.

Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, A Trial, and Hate Crime in America, Image above.

In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest

And, if you are a journalist in need to an expert on this topic, the next time there a bias crime that happens America, call or David. He will put it all in context for you and help educate you on the issues. Dave Neiwart should be your first stop when discussing the topic of "hate crimes" when it comes up in your state.

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Steaming Pile said...

And yet, even if you explain the differences that identify "message crimes" as such, in language any sentient human ought to understand, you get blank looks and a repeat of what the ignoramus just said about "all crimes are hate crimes." You could put it as "get out of town you redneck hillbilly" and it still wouldn't matter, so incredibly and willfully stupid some people are.

8:38 AM  
David Neiwert said...

Wow. Thanks much, Spocko.

12:11 PM  
Metro said...

Fascinating. There's been some discussion over at The Questionable Authority on Phred Phelch's loony band from Westboro Bat$#!7-crazy Church getting fined $10 mil for trying inflicting misery on the family of a dead victim of the Glorious Avdenture in Iraq.

Phelps tried to come through to Canada once, according to legend, but was stopped because his placards constituded hate speech under Canadian law.

I wanted to try and express why hate-speech/hate-crime laws are a good and necessary thing, but had to give over. Orcinus phrases it well.

Thanks for the posting. Perhaps I'll revisit the QA.

12:33 AM  
spocko said...

Thanks Metro. I was thinking about using the phrase to explain and tie them together more.

Hate crimes are Bias Crimes.
A Bias crime law sends a message.

I think that just calling waterboarding, partial drowning torture, how we refer to things is important for what one author calls unspeak. where the simple phrase conveys lots of information.

The Kenosha Kid calls waterboarding
partial drowning interrogation.

Some called it "freedom dunking".

10:40 AM  

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