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Federal hate crime charges in Buffalo shooting and what can't be legislated

Federal hate crime charges in Buffalo shooting and what can't be legislated

Federal prosecutors charged Buffalo shooting suspect Payton Gendron with multiple federal hate crimes offenses. But hate crimes laws are problematic.

Federal prosecutors charged Payton Gendron with multiple federal hate crimes offenses on Wednesday. Gendron is accused of killing 10 Black people and injuring three others in a racist attack at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, in May. The federal charges, which carry the potential for the death penalty, also include firearms violations. They come on top of counts of domestic terrorism motivated by hate and first-degree murder that he already faces from New York prosecutors, for which he has pleaded not guilty. 

The idea of punishing crimes that are motivated by racial animus feels morally right. Racism is bad. Crime is bad. Crime, additionally motivated by racism, is doubly bad. The problem is, hate crime legislation may not be an effective solution. It’s a lot easier to identify what looks like racially motivated violence than it is to actually prove and prosecute it. 

It threatens to encroach upon constitutional protections and — ironically — place value on the lives of victims according to their race, the opposite of what a reduction in hate should achieve.

Holding racist and hateful views, by themselves, cannot be criminalized; pure thought may not be punished under the U.S. Constitution. Instead, every criminal offense must prohibit some conduct. As long as you keep it to yourself, you can harbor evil thoughts of racism, sexism, treason, violence or even genocide.

In fact, the U.S. Constitution protects even more than racist thoughts. As long as it doesn’t incite imminent lawless action or constitute a threat, racist speech is protected speech. It’s deplorable. It’s poisonous. But it’s protected.

Post ID: 10dbb740-4583-4e4c-b60a-9797749c165a
Rating: 1
Updated: 1 week ago

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