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Does Hate Make the Crime Worse?
by Shannon

As the Hate Crime Prevention Act of 1997 is debated in Congress, controversy swirls around it, exacerbated by the recent brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, in Wyoming. The Act, like existing hate crime legislation in several states, would impose additional penalties for crimes committed because of the victim's race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Proponents of the Act argue that the legislation may deter future hate crimes.

Arguing that hate crime perpetrators often see themselves as a hero of their community, ridding it of "undesirable" elements and sending a message to others like the victim that they are not wanted in the community, supporters assert that the moral message sent by the legislation will make it clear to potential perpetrators that the community is not supportive of them. Some proponents also argue that hate crimes belong in a different category of crime because of the keen feelings of vulnerability they provoke in victims or potential victims, who know that they carry the cause of their assault with them. Critics of the legislation point out that existing legislation already carries penalties for assault, rape and murder, and that enforcement of existing legislation is preferable to any new legislation.

Is a crime committed because of a victim's gender or race more heinous than a crime of passion or the kid shot for his jacket?

The Libertarian Party, in a September press release condemning the pending legislation, asserted that the legislation attempts to punish motivations rather than crimes. Critics also point out that many definition of hate crime include verbal harassment, thus treading a treacherous line between protection of the victim and infringement on the right to free speech, even when that speech is reprehensible. Thus hate crime legislation, they argue, creates a potentially dangerous new form of crime:
Thought crime.

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