I know the standard arguments for treating "hate crimes," i.e., crimes in which the victim was chosen partly based on race, religion, or sexual orientation, worse than similar non-hate crimes -- they betray an especially depraved mental state, and they are more socially destructive because they make an entire identity group feel threatened. Yet while these arguments are not implausible, I've never found them terribly persuasive. I agree that the law may legitimately look to the criminal's motive, which is why we treat murder motivated by money differently from murder motivated by an understandable though still wrong desire for revenge, or murder motivated by compassion for the suffering; I just think that the motives in hate crimes tend to be not materially worse than many other bad motives.
In any event, I don't want to get into the theoretical argument much here, but to point to a specific example, and ask supporters of hate crimes laws what they think. My sense is that it shows that hate crimes, hateful as they are, are chiefly hateful because they are crimes, not because they are hate crimes; perhaps I'm wrong; but one way or another it seems like an interesting test case:
A homeless black man who allegedly killed a woman at a Westchester County mall told cops she "had to die" because she was white and he was fighting a race war, it was revealed yesterday.
"I never seen her before and I didn't care," Phillip Grant, 43, said of Connie Russo Carriero, 56. "As long as she had blond hair and blue eyes, she had to die."
The legal secretary and mother of two grown children was stabbed to death while walking to her car in the Galleria Mall parking garage in White Plains last Wednesday.
Grant['s] . . . shocking statements were videotaped by police . . . . He told cops he knew he would get caught for the crime, saying, "I want the death penalty. I want to die. But I wanted to kill somebody white first." . . .
Sounds like quite a depraved murder. But is it really more depraved than a murder committed because the killer felt like killing a rich person, an ugly person, or just a person? (If you think murder is a special case because all murders except those in which the motivation is somehow a mitigating factor should be punished severely, imagine that this involved a beating rather than a murder.) And I realize that such hate crimes might exacerbate racial tensions, but would prosecuting them as a special kind of crime ease those tensions, or exacerbate them more?