In this morning's Times, Harpreet Singh Saini writes about how important hate crime laws and prosecutions are. He isn't writing from theory.
This is not a hypothetical situation. Three years ago next month, a white supremacist walked into the Oak Creek gurdwara, a Sikh temple, and fatally shot my mother, Paramjit Kaur Saini, and five other worshipers.
I was 18 and just about to start college. My mother never got to see me off.
It was a horrible crime. It's a horrible story.
The governments (federal and state) need to track hate crimes, he says. And they need to prosecute people for them. Because they're terrible things. And they provide especially harsh penalties for people who commit horrible crimes for bad reasons (as if there were good ones). Of course, those crimes are already being tracked, as are groups that encourage them.
Research by the Southern Poverty Law Center has found that South Carolina alone is home to six neo-Confederate groups, four white nationalist organizations, two factions of the Ku Klux Klan and three neo-Nazi groups.
And so, well, that's where it gets hazy. Here's the next (and last) sentence of Saini's paragraph I just quoted.
It is only a matter of time before a deranged individual or group influenced by their creed of hate strikes again.
Which is surely true. And which tracking, whether by SPLC or the feds or the state of South Carolina won't change.
Ah, but surely there's deterrence.
This is an opportunity for South Carolina to lead, and the other four states [that don't have hate crime laws] to follow, in enacting laws that could help to deter another tragedy like the ones in Oak Creek and Charleston. An act of hate should always be counted and we must have laws in every state to protect Americans from these heinous acts of violence.
Really? A law against hate crimes will deter, will protect against "a deranged individual or group"?
Sure, because one thing about people who are deranged and act on their mental illness is that they do careful cost-benefit analyses first. It's one reason why people don't commit crimes for bad reasons in the other 46 states. You know, the states like
New York, where in 2013 alone (the most recent year for which data is available), state prosecutors reported 149 hate crime convictions.
Saini's Op Ed is titled "There Ought To Be a Law Against Hate." The title was probably provided by some editor at the Times, so there's no point in blaming Saini for that particular silliness, but it does point to the problem.
You can't stop hate - or any other emotion/attitude - by passing a law. Even if you name it after someone and make it a crime.
UPDATE: See Greenfield at Fault Lines on the Op-Ed making essentially the same (valid) point he does in his comment here.