I am one Georgian who's happy our state doesn't have so-called "hate crime" legislation on the books. Hate crime laws tend to promote inequality rather than curb it. Such laws create special classes of citizens who enjoy a special status. This is straight out of George Orwell's Animal Farm, where everyone is equal — but some are more equal than others.
It is inherently unjust to punish certain crimes more harshly than others simply because the victim is a member of a special chosen group. It demeans those who aren't considered special and is contrary to the idea that laws should apply equally to everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or other variables. If someone's grandfather is assaulted, should the law care less because he doesn't happen to be gay?
Hate crime laws are not only unfair, they're also unnecessary. Is anyone seriously contending that existing laws won't be harsh enough to punish the young males who allegedly attacked Josh Noblitt in Piedmont Park simply because he was in the company of a male friend and perceived to be gay? Creative Loafing reporter Gwynedd Stuart pointed out (see CL's cover story, "Victim of Hate," Sept. 9) that the youngsters, one of whom is only 13, will be tried as adults. Obviously no special protected status for any of them! They all face 10 years in prison because one of them is alleged to have used a gun to commit armed robbery. Isn't a 10-year sentence harsh enough for a 13-year-old with seemingly very poor judgment?
There are already plenty of laws on the books to punish people convicted of crimes. Heck, Georgia already has one of the highest rates of people in prison or on parole or probation of any place on the planet. The New York Times reported last year a study by the Pew Center on the States which showed that an astounding one in 13 adults in Georgia is under some form of punishment. Georgia's three-strikes law puts even nonviolent offenders behind bars for long sentences — a practice that is perhaps even more confounding than a hate crime law that would punish some criminals more than others based on the murky waters of motivation.
Finally, in addition to being unfair and unnecessary, hate crime laws are a real threat to our rights of free speech. If a crime is considered worse because of words the attacker says, then it is only a small step to make the words themselves a crime. This has already happened in some European countries, where people can be imprisoned simply because of what they say. Thus hate crime laws can represent the first step in the direction of censorship and loss of our first amendment rights.
Noblitt expressed the desire to build understanding with his attackers. If hate were the real issue, then building understanding would be far better than building more prisons. Sadly, Noblitt's evident good character also makes him an ideal poster child for those behind the push for hate crime laws as a sneaky attack on equality and free speech. Don't fall for it.
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