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February 16, 2006

Hate Crimes? Depends ...

I've not commented much on the church bombings in Alabama, mainly because information has been sketchy. 10 Baptist churches burned. Some of the churches were predominantly white, so no racism angle. And no reporting of a hate crime.

Read this report in the Boston Globe (I get their RSS feed for Religion stories -- they usually do a decent job there). I encourage you all to read it, but there's one part I just have to quote here:

Suppose that in 2005 unknown hoodlums had firebombed 10 gay bookstores and bars in San Francisco, reducing several of them to smoking rubble. It takes no effort to imagine the alarm that would have spread through the Bay Area’s gay community or the manhunt that would have been launched to find the attackers. The blasts would have been described everywhere as ”hate crimes,” editorial pages would have thundered with condemnation, and public officials would have vowed to crack down on crimes against gays with unprecedented severity.

Suppose that vandals last month had attacked 10 Detroit-area mosques and halal restaurants, leaving behind shattered windows, wrecked furniture, and walls defaced with graffiti. The violence would be national front-page news. On blogs and talk radio, the horrifying outbreak of anti-Muslim bigotry would be Topic No. 1. Bills would be introduced in Congress to increase the penalties for violent ”hate crimes” — no one would hesitate to call them by that term — and millions of Americans would rally in solidarity with Detroit’s Islamic community.

Now, the FBI officially has opened a civil rights case for the fires in Bibb county -- which are white churches. Special Agent Nancv Nelson told CNN that the civil rights case is based on religious discrimination. So the FBI seems to think of it as a hate crime, even thought I haven't seen them use those exact words. But not even FBI agenst are sure about that:

''We're looking to make sure this is not a hate crime and that we do everything that we need to do," FBI Special Agent Charles Regantold reporters in Birmingham.

I'm not sure what that means. Are they trying to prove it IS a hate crime, or are they treating it as if it ISN'T, or what?
''I don't see any evidence that these fires are hate crimes," Mark Potok, a director of the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Los Angeles Times. ''Anti-Christian crimes are exceedingly rare in the South."

This one irritates me. Jacoby shows in his article that the SPLC doesn't have many obvious cases of anti-Christian hate crimes in their records. Just because they are rare doesn't mean they don't happen -- the south isn't the stereotypic WASP paradise that it's painted to be.

The fact remains -- somebody is burning Baptist churches, and only Baptist churches. They are, in fact, driving past other denominations in their quest for Baptist churches. If there are going to be special punishments for hate crimes, and special efforts made to catch perpetrators of hate crimes, then I think this certainly qualifies.

Unfortunately, the very idea of "hate crimes" is nebulous. Nobody can tell what a hate crime is, and what it isn't, so it ends up that the public judges what a hate crime is. And it seems that not many people care that Baptist churches are being burned down in Alabama.

I find the idea of a "hate crime" to be needlessly redundant. People aren't burning down churches because they love Baptists so much they just can't stand it, are they? People don't shoot cops to show their appreciation for the job the police do, do they?

Read Jeff Jacoby's article. The very concept of hate crimes are, in my own opinion, ridiculous. But if we're going to have hate crime legislation on the books, the least we can do is actually prosecute them when they occurr.

Posted by Warren Kelly at February 16, 2006 01:57 PM | TrackBack
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