Guns, Politics, and Freedom
August 27, 1998

But justice ‘were’ born for you, Regan

By F. Paul Valone

 

The following column ran on August 27, 1998 in The Charlotte Observer under the title “We don’t need special laws against hate crimes,” and on the same day in The Asheville Tribune under its original title.

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“Jesus weren’t born for you, faggot,” spat the bitter message of hate spray painted on the steps below Regan Wolf.  Twice, the South Carolina lesbian was whipped, spread-eagled and tied to her front porch.

 

In May, gay rights organization Lambda reported Wolf  “went into hiding … fearful for her life.”  Tony Snell of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement called the travesty a “modern day lynching.”

 

Efforts to include anti-gay violence under the “hate crime” umbrella focused on the South in general and South Carolina in particular.  Citing opposition to gay rights by religious conservatives, one newspaper quoted Snell saying, “They’ve sent a message here that it’s O.K. to hate.”

 

But Regan lost her job as poster lesbian for the gay rights movement when police announced she might have staged the crimes herself.  According to South Carolina investigators, she and a male acquaintance “went to a store, purchased some red paint, gloves, and a double-thick belt and went back to (her house) … Then she lay down across the bed and he inflicted the wounds across her back at her request.”

 

Oops.

 

Racially-motivated crimes like the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas and the burning of the Macedonia Baptist Church continue to whet the federal appetite for stronger hate crime legislation.  Building on existing laws, Senator Ted Kennedy introduced the “Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1998,” which would broaden federal powers of prosecution and expand the definition of hate crimes to include gender, disability, and sexual orientation.

 

Indeed, what could possibly be wrong with punishing crimes motivated by bigotry?

 

Let’s start with redundancy.  While plenty of heinous crimes spring from prejudice, plenty of state laws already address those crimes.  Burning a church is illegal in every state I can think of, and dragging someone to death behind a pickup truck is firmly discouraged.

 

“We need to send the strongest possible signal that hate crimes will not be tolerated,” said Kennedy after the Jasper killing.  But given the likelihood that Texas prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Byrd’s killers, and given the Texan propensity for thinning the herd of murderers, exactly what “stronger response” might the good Senator suggest?

 

The redundancy of hate laws, however, is but a minor consideration.

 

Then there’s the lure of political manipulation.  Remember the mileage Mr. Clinton got from his “Southern Church Tour” before even the Associated Press admitted that most church arson has little to do with race?

 

Hate crime protection has become a trophy in the competition for victimhood among racial, ethnic and now sexual factions vying for advantage.  Improving on Al Sharpton’s crude exploitation of the Tawana Brawley affair, Regan Wolf apparently decided that incidents of “gay-baiting” were insufficient to accomplish her political objectives.  The solution?  Simply create the necessary catalyst.

 

But that too is a triviality.

 

Next, we should contemplate what hate laws actually punish.  Hate crime could more accurately be dubbed “thought crime” `a la Orwell’s 1984.  While other laws punish misdeeds or the intent to commit misdeeds, hate crime laws punish motivation.  Consider the subtle distinction: Beyond existing laws punishing arson, for example, these laws penalize hatred that results in arson.

 

But oddly enough, even your government’s attempt to reach into your head and punish your thoughts pales beside the most fundamental flaw of hate crime laws.

 

Spread-eagled next to Regan, revealed to the world, is the ugliest blemish of the very standard she sought to expand: Hate crime legislation further politicizes not only our laws, but the very concepts of justice which underpin them.

 

Think about the unwitting message of Wolf’s little manipulation: “Inflict greater punishment on those who attack me than those who maul another woman.  Why?  Because the crime against me is more serious.  And why is it more serious?  Because I am gay.”

 

While justice must be equitable, Regan wants to be “more equal” than others.  And when you apply politics to the necessary egalitarianism that is justice, there can be no end.  Laws for crimes motivated by race.  Laws for crimes motivated by sex.  Laws for crimes motivated by sexual preference.  When young, I was beaten because I was short.  Should we have hate crime laws for that?

 

Justice is neither black not white, neither male nor female, neither straight nor gay.  Justice is simply justice, Regan.  And by its nature must be applied equally to all.

 

You see, Regan, justice was born for you.  And for me.