Hate Speech and Hate Crime: Weasel Words

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By Mike Cronin

It’s been awhile since we translated any weasel-ese, but two related terms have been prominent recently, so let’s have a go.  This past week, four Chicago young adults, aged 18-24, allegedly kidnapped an 18 year-old special-needs man and tortured him (by beating him and forcing him to drink toilet water, among other things). The suspects “broadcast” at least a portion of their acts “live” on Facebook. The alleged perpetrators are black; the victim is white.  The pundit class is convulsing about whether the incident is a hate crime.

The term “hate crime,” and its close relative, “hate speech,” are weasel words.

Kidnapping is a crime. Torturing someone is a crime.  In the Chicago case, barring a revelation that the entire thing was a hoax or prank, or some other dramatic “plot twist” in the case, it will take some extremely deft legal defense to get the four suspects acquitted of the basic charges of kidnapping, assault, and aggravated assault.

When a prosecutor tries to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” to a jury that a suspect is guilty of a crime, he or she often must show that the suspect had the opportunity, capability, and intent (or motivation) to commit the crime.  Hate can certainly serve to motivate someone to commit a crime, but hatred is not a crime in itself, since it is simply an emotion.  If one commits a crime driven by hate, the crime is the crime and hate is the motivation.

By creating a special treatment category for offenses motivated by hatred, i.e. “hate crimes,” the weasels are trying to criminalize hatred itself.  (Interestingly, the tables have been turned, in that some of the opinion-aters who are usually the first to allege a hate crime are going through all manner of rhetorical gyrations to prevent that label from sticking to the Chicago case.)

Similarly, by categorizing offensive rhetoric, racial slurs, and other venomous utterances as “hate speech,” the weasels are again trying to criminalize an emotion. The concepts of banning hate speech and prosecuting hate crimes are being promoted by people who themselves hate opposition. They would repeal the First Amendment if they could, then they would make it a crime to dissent.

Think I’m off my rocker?  Observe the rise of the campus speech code and its ever-increasing (and ever-more-ludicrous) list of things one cannot say.  University campuses have become minefields for the unwary orator who opines outside the designated “free speech zone.”

In a rational academic setting, students must be exposed to schools of thought different than their own in order to learn and grow – the whole point of a “higher” education!  Sometimes different ideologies are offensive or difficult to accept…until one hears them presented and discussed in the academic setting and has a change of opinion.  Banning the mere potential giving of offense is banning the opportunity for growth and learning.

Are you a hater?  Probably not, but you have probably experienced the emotion of hatred once or twice in your life.  If the weasels who are currently trying to make hatred a crime have their way; someday in the not-too-distant future, you will be guilty of a crime merely for thinking your own thoughts.

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