Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hate crimes: Muddying the waters

-- by Dave

Right-wing pundits, especially Michelle Malkin, are all worked up over a particularly brutal case of black-on-white murder as evidence of the media's supposed hypocrisy over "hate crimes" -- that is, they're eager to show that similar crimes against whites are never played up in the media.

Indeed, Malkin so far has devoted four posts and a Hot Air video to the story. John Leo has penned a piece for the New York Sun, while a number of lesser right-wing lights has similarly weighed in.

If you bother to click through to any of those pieces, though, what you'll notice is that none of them mention hate crimes. Mind you, all of the big media cases that they like to compare crimes like this (and the similarly specious Jesse Dirkhising case) to -- Matthew Shepard, James Byrd, and the like -- actually are hate crimes. That is, they all involve bias-motivated violence.

But hate crimes are not about race per se. There are many, many more interracial crimes -- including both white-on-black and black-on-white crimes -- that are never prosecuted as bias crimes for a simple reason: there is no evidence that they were motivated by any kind of bias, racial or otherwise.

As I explained in Death on the Fourth of July regarding the Dirkhising case:
There was just one problem: the killing of Jesse Dirkhising was not a hate crime.

The boy's parents were friends with one of the gay men, Davis Carpenter, who wound up killing him. The boy spent weekends with Carpenter and his partner, Joshua Brown, at their home with his parents' consent; they reportedly believed he was working for them at their hair salon. It was during one of those visits to his home that Brown -- who told police he and Jesse had frequently tied each other up, though not for sexual purposes -- decided to "play a game" by sneaking up on Dirkhising from behind, binding his hands, and shoving underwear in his mouth, then wrapping it all with duct tape and then placing a T-shirt over his head. (Carpenter was present and had apparently encouraged the acts.) Brown then proceeded to rape Dirkhising multiple times with various objects, and then left him lying on the bed while he went to eat lunch. When he returned, the boy had stopped breathing, and attempts to resuscitate him failed.

There was, however, no evidence anywhere that the two gay men had acted out of a bias motivation against straight children, nor that Dirkhising had been intentionally selected because of his sexual preference. Neither Brown nor Carpenter had ever evidenced any animus toward straight people, and there was no indication of any desire to terrorize the straight community or "put them in their place."

In reality, Dirkhising's death was a relatively simple if appalling case of child murder -- and indeed, Brown was eventually convicted of, and Carpenter pleaded guilty to murder charges, and both were sentenced to life in prison without parole. There were 1,449 such murders committed in 1999 -- and though the media report such cases locally, they rarely make national headlines, largely because even though every child murder is by nature horrifying, there is no national debate over the wrongness of pedophilia or assaults on children, nor the propriety of stiffer penalties for them. These murders in fact are perpetrated by all kinds of people, though predominantly by heterosexuals who attack young girls. And while some are horrendous enough to catch national attention, there are too many of them to all receive splash coverage. Indeed, in the same month following Dirkhising’s killing, there were noteworthy murder/rape stories in Kansas and Wisconsin involving young girls that received about the same amount of media coverage.

The only conceivable reasons a national editor might have for calling out the case would be either a taste for salacious details or to deliberately portray gays in a grim light (as, indeed, did [WorldNetDaily's Joseph] Farah and the religious right). Focusing on a case like Dirkhising's while comparatively ignoring a thousand other heterosexual child murders reflects a genuine bias, not an imagined one. Farah, [Andrew] Sullivan, and their cohorts essentially chastised their colleagues in the media for their failure to participate in their own rather spectacular display of gay-bashing (which, in the case of Sullivan, is also bizarre).

By seizing on the Dirkhising case, the opponents of gay hate-crime laws rather starkly demonstrated either their own failure to grasp the requisite components of bias-crime laws, or their willingness to trade in outright misinformation about them, or perhaps both. By suggesting that the killers had perpetrated a "gay hate crime," they confused the basic concept of the crimes themselves.

The highly charged racial and religious context in which hate crimes have been portrayed generally to the public has given birth to one of the most basic misconceptions about them: that is, the notion that any kind of crime involving intergroup conflict, especially different identity groups -- interracial crime, for instance, or the Dirkhising case -- constitutes a "hate crime." Thus when a black-on-white crime -- or a gay-on-straight crime -- occurs, observers will sometimes wonder why it is not treated as a hate crime, even though there is no evidence the crime was motivated by bias.

And, of course, it is precisely the presence of a bias motivation, and nothing else, that makes a crime a "hate" crime. This certainly is reflected in the fact that the word "hate" at best appears only in the title of any hate-crime law; the laws themselves uniformly refer to them as "bias-motivated."

What Malkin et. al. are accomplishing, of course, is muddying the public's understanding of hate crimes at a time when we're about to have a significant national debate over them. Their chief narrative, of course, is that hate-crime laws are all about creating special privileges for certain classes of people; getting people worked up over interracial crime is a way of obscuring the reality, which is that bias-crime laws cover everyone equally.

As I'm fond of noting, all you have to do is look at the annual FBI statistics to realize that black-on-white (as well as anti-Christian) hate crimes are prosecuted with considerable avidity in America today. In 2005, for instance, black-on-white hate crimes constituted about 20 percent of all racial bias crimes reported.

But it's especially worth noting that this kind of obfuscation has been the stock argument against bias-crime laws trotted out by white supremacists for the past thirty years or more. Whenever these kinds of crimes have been discussed in the national press, the uniform response of the Stormfront set has been: Yeah, but blacks commit much more crime against whites than we do against them. They often trot out Jared Taylor's specious text, "The Color of Crime" -- which details the statistics supposedly showing how much more blacks victimize whites than the other way around -- as supporting evidence.

Indeed, as Crime Library reports, the Channon/Christian case is being picked up as a significant cause celebre of the far-right neo-Nazi set:
Yesterday, the Knox County Commission committee voted 6-2, with one abstention, to ask that the Against Black Crimes (ABC) Group, cancel a rally they had planned for June 16 in front of the former Knox County Courthouse. Ken Gregg, who has a history with the White Patriot Party, filed the group's permit application. According to a website allegedly affiliated with Gregg, the purpose of the rally was to protest black-on-white crime.

"While recognizing the First Amendment rights of all, the Knox County Commission strongly needs to request that the rally not be held," Commissioner Greg Lambert said during the meeting. "This community has seen a hate crime the likes of which we've never seen. I don't want these racist hate mongers to come here."

Moreover, there is no evidence at all that this was in fact a hate crime -- rather, it was a brutal crime of opportunity. Even the father of one of the victims says as much:
Despite the suspect's race, Gary said he did not believe the murders should be considered a hate crime.

"I don't think they went out — black people looking for white people," Gary said. "What it turned into, I don't know. But I know this. I believe in my heart that wild animals come in lots of different colors. The end result is that they are still wild animals."

Nonetheless, if you go to Stormfront or other white-supremacist sites -- including Taylor's American Renaissance or any number of skinhead sites -- you can find prominent mention of the case. Some of them link to Malkin's work.

What we're seeing in this case is the symbiotic relationship between ostensibly mainstream "transmitters" like Malkin and the far-right extremists from whom they draw their ideas and memes. The extremists give the transmitters material for "pushing the envelope," and in return the extremists find their ideas gaining broader circulation and given the imprimatur of mainstream media.

That's how extremist effluent, the kind that muddies the waters and poisons the well, works its way into the mainstream, thanks to folks like Michelle Malkin and John Leo. And as it does so, the center of the pendulum keeps getting washed farther to the right.

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