Trayvon Martin and the Absurdity of “Hate” Crimes

Much like the scandal involving three Duke University lacrosse players and the non-rape of a stripper back in 2006, the media has already jumped to prosecution following the murder of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.  Now, judging by the evidence thus far, it would appear that Martin may have been gunned down by overly-zealous neighborhood watcher George Zimmerman.  Zimmerman had a history of repeated 911 callings for suspicious figures around the area he patrolled in Sanford, Florida.  Even after being told to stand down by a 911 operator, Zimmerman proceeded to confront an unarmed Martin.  What occurred next is still unclear as it’s a mystery the legal system must solve (as flawed as it is when run solely by the government).  One can only hope that justice is served to whoever the true victim may be.  If this author had to guess, it would appear that Zimmerman was indeed the aggressor in this tragedy as a recorded phone call between Martin and his girlfriend revealed that Zimmerman was following the teen whose only crime was walking to his father’s house to watch the NBA All Star game.  This is in addition to Martin’s body lacking any marks which would signify he was engaged in a physical altercation.  But this overall hunch is only that; a hunch based on a few bits of evidence.

Incomplete evidence doesn’t stop a media industry always looking for its next target of vilification however.  Spike Lee and Minister Louis Farrakhan have escalated the tension further by tweeting Zimmerman’s address (which turned out to be wrong) and suggesting a form of vigilante retaliation.  Professional race card dealers Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, seeing too lucrative of an opportunity to stay relevant, have weighed in to fan the flames of black victimization.  Sharpton has called for the Justice Department’s investigation to focus on the incident as a “hate” crime.

The U.S. Department of Justice defines a hate crime as “violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability.”  The purpose of separating what constitutes a normal crime from a “hate” crime is to socially engineer “acceptable” behavior.  That is, to eliminate any prejudices one has toward a certain race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender.  By requiring stricter punishment for crimes done out of a specified dislike, the goal is to force a change in in the public mindset.

Such a task is based on the idea that any man’s thoughts in themselves are worthy of forceful manipulation.  Say I have a predisposition to hate the black race.  I go about my daily business of interacting in my local economy while socializing and transacting with a number of African Americans.  But I may consider blacks to be an inferior race and undeserving of my respect.  While a significant portion of my coworkers and the customers I serve happen to be black, I give them the equivalent of the “cold shoulder” in the workplace.

Who am I hurting here?

From the non-aggression principled perspective, I am hurting no one.  In that sense, my apprehension toward blacks, or any race, gender, religion, etc. for that matter, is not something wrong or harmful.  I am committing no physical violence toward them nor am I threatening to do so.  From the view of enjoying myself at work or attracting satisfied consumers, my behavior is extremely illogical.  As Mises wrote on the unifying effect of the market and the division of labor:

The greater productivity of work under the division of labor is a unifying influence. It leads men to regard each other as comrades in a joint struggle for welfare, rather than as competitors in a struggle for existence. It makes friends out of enemies, peace out of war, society out of individuals.

Thoughts and feelings are just that; thoughts and feelings which, when not acted upon, physically harm no one.  The line of justifiable prosecution is crossed when I attack or pose a serious threat to those whom I dislike.  But, as was pointed out, such unnecessary conflict is irrational from the point of view of facilitating market transactions.  Peace is always the great enabler of the market.

So where do “hate” crimes fit into all this?

If we are referring to real crimes, that is those which are aggressions by one toward another, then all crimes are hateful by definition.  Does one attack another out of love?  Out of respect and admiration?  Why is there no “love” crime?

Crime, irregardless of the ends one seeks when committing them, is necessarily rooted in hate and harm.  Separating between “hate” crimes and “non-hate” crimes is senseless if true justice is being sought.

But therein lies the true intention of “hate” crime legislation.  Rather than uphold an equal standard of punishment for all, the imposition of a harsher punishment through “hate” crime laws is divisive.

Separation is the true objective.  The classification of “hate” crimes is a ploy to create division and a strand of class warfare amongst the public.  The beneficiaries of “hate” crime legislation are numerous.  Correctional lobbies, lawyers, and bureaucrats who take great pleasure in enforcing government decrees all benefit from severe legal penalties and increasingly complex laws.  They in turn throw campaign cash at a political class which envisions itself as creating a perfect society.

Opportunistic race peddlers like Al Sharpton (who conveniently forgot to protest the cruel gunning down by police of an unarmed black man in front of his two young daughters just weeks before the Martin incident)  join in by championing these types of divisions while crusading under the banner of equality.  If equality was really Sharpton’s motive then he would call for the immediate abolition of “hate” crime laws as they give dissimilar treatment to specific groups of people.  They are the antithesis of equality under the law.

The killing of anyone who does not initiate violence, or is unarmed for defense, is a tragedy.  Justice should be sought and applied after the details of the incident are worked out to determine the true culprit.  The imposition of a harsher punishment for “hate” crimes is not justice at all but another case of statist engineering run amok.

*Wil Grigg’s LRC article on the Trayvon Martin incident is highly recommended.

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