North Dakota doesn’t need hate crime legislation

After an ugly altercation between a white woman and three Somali women in the parking lot of a Fargo Walmart made national headlines, the usual cast of political opportunists have parachuted in to make political hay.

North Dakota is one of just a few states without hate crime legislation on the books, they tell us.

That should change, they say.

Should it? What would hate crime legislation accomplish if implemented in North Dakota?

Confusion and identity politics in the criminal code is one answer.

“The hate crime law movement re-criminalizes conduct that is already criminal. In effect, it creates a hierarchy of victims — one based upon the group identities of perpetrators and victims, as long as prosecutors can prove a bias motive,” NYU School of Law Professor James B. Jacobs wrote in a 2016 article for Time.

“Thus, from the beginning, hate crime laws have simply given us something else to argue about: whose victimization should be punished more severely. They further politicize a law-enforcement and criminal-justice process that does best when it is perceived as being apolitical and even-handed–not a tool of identity politics.”

Left-wing proponents of hate crime legislation suggest that the stiffer penalties for crimes motivated by things like the race or sexual orientation of the victim serve as a deterrent to those crimes, but does that pass the smell test?

There is no conclusive evidence that the increasing number of hate crime laws on the books in states across the nation have reduced hate crime at all. Most states have hate crime legislation today, and yet nationally the FBI’s measure of the incidence of hate crimes has remained relatively static.

For those of you inclined to disagree, consider the generational debate over the death penalty.

Proponents of killing those convicted of particularly heinous crimes suggest that the threat of death deters those crimes.

Only it doesn’t.

It never has.

Because those inclined to commit serious criminal acts typically are not, in the moment, spending a lot of time thinking about the consequences.

Hate crime laws aim to solve the problem of hatred by putting people in prison for longer.

This is folly. A mistake not unlike our attempt to address issues related to drug addiction with jail sentences. What has that won us other than prison overcrowding and a myriad of other ill social side effects?

The place to address issues like racial animus is not prison but at home. Or in our schools. Or in our churches and civic groups.

I will say that there is value in tracking crimes motivated by hatred. That sort of data is always valuable, though achieving it can be difficult.

Not all crimes have clear cut motivations.

But increasing criminal penalties for crimes that meet what is often a very political definition of hatred?

That would be a mistake.

Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort


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