Hate Crime Legislation: Why it doesn’t protect us

Scotland has recently enacted a new hate crime law dealing with crimes motivated by disablism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Whilst some community groups are praising this move as progressive, I’m not so sure.

First of all, let us look at what hate crime legislation actually does. If a crime is seen to be motivated by prejudice, the perpetrator of that crime gets a tougher sentence than if the crime is not judged to be motivated by a named phobia or prejudice. This effectively is criminalising not the action in itself, which would be criminalised anyway, but the perpetrator for what they were thinking at the time. This is essentially thoughtcrime. It shouldn’t make a difference what a killer is thinking at the time of a murder, it is still murder.

I think it is necessary to discuss why exactly ‘hate crime’ happens. Interpersonal violence happens, not because there aren’t enough laws, but because prejudice and bigotry is endemic in our society. Tackling discrimination is something that needs to be proactive, not reactive, if it has any chance of succeeding. At the moment, however, our government is doing precious little to proactively challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, whilst actively discriminating against these groups. Hate crime legislation such as this is rarely something useful, but rather a cynical attempt to appear to be ‘doing something’ on the issue of discrimination.

The state is setting itself up to be seen as the only protector of our communities and the only mechanism in which justice can be achieved; when in effect it is actually one of our biggest oppressors. The institutional discrimination our communities face in prison, in the lack of provision for victims of domestic abuse and same sex rape or even with the NHS ban on gay and bi men giving blood is the real face of our the states attitude towards our community. If the state set itself up as the instrument of justice in our communities, it can justify smashing any autonomous groups organising their own attempt at community justice.

Furthermore, due to the institutional bigotry in our policing, marginalised groups like LGBT, BME and disabled people are over-represented in prisons, and often face institutional discrimination whilst in prison. Putting people convicted of hate crimes in prison for longer than they otherwise would be, where they can continue to target the same groups in a harsh environment is not a positive thing. It is not in our interest as a community to entrust our protection to the state.

It is sad that well meaning liberals support legislation such as this, which is fundamentally disempowering to our communities. It is sad that we are trusting an institution to oppress us when that institution is our biggest oppressor.

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  1. Hmmms, you’ve got me thinking now. I was all ready to disagree with you, but you’ve made me think.

    In general, hate crime is more serious than plain ol’ crime – it is a crime against all the other people of that minority/whatever, makes the society less safe for them and so on, but I thoroughly agree that merely punishing more harshly is not a way to stop hate crime at all.

    I hadn’t thought about the prisons bit, and that rather scares me. Thanks for the enlightenment!

      • radicalrabbit
      • March 28th, 2010

      Thanks Emma! 🙂
      You are completely right, there is a difference between hate crime and ‘normal crime’… a hate crime is an attack on an entire community, whereas a normal crime is in effect an attack on an individual. Its pretty hard to qualify the difference between them… are all attacks on black people by white people hate crimes? How can you really know what the perpetrator was thinking at the time unless they volunteer that information? I think as soon as you get into that territory you’re in murky waters, its just too subjective.
      Just had a look at your livejournal, very interesting! 🙂

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