Baltimore Sun, May 17, 2011:
On Monday, the activists called the new count in the indictment against Teonna Brown appropriate and necessary. A hate crime charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, which could be added to the 25-year maximum for the assault charge Brown already faces.
Prosecutors “came to the only possible conclusion in deciding to try the assault on Chrissy Lee Polis as a hate crime,” said Lynne Bowman, the interim executive director of Equality Maryland. “Lack of understanding or fear about someone who is transgender is never an excuse for violence, and when it occurs, it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
I understand conservative critics of hate crimes laws as a category, but disagree with them respectfully. There is a theoretical risk that hate crimes laws can be used to engage in inappropriate social engineering or viewpoint discrimination, or otherwise violate the rights of persons to express unpopular views in non-violent manners. There is also an argument that a battery is a battery, whether it’s to steal a purse or to humiliate someone on the basis of his race, gender orientation, etc.
In my view, hate crimes laws are legitimate because targeting someone on the basis of her or his immutable status – or near-immutable status such as religion – telegraphs terror and permanent vulnerability to all similarly situated persons. Hate crimes effect a broader injustice and on more people than does street violence associated with petty theft, ordinary bar brawls or the like. The practical and social effects of these crimes damage more victims per act and therefore social order is more radically damaged by hate crimes than by otherwise similar non-hate crimes , justifying greater deterrence, restraint, restitution and punishment.