The widely viewed video showing the brutal beating of a transgender woman at a McDonald’s in Maryland has caused the uncomfortable issue of hate crimes legislation once again to raise its head.
Videos go viral for a variety of reasons, and this one has done so for all the wrong ones. For anyone who hasn’t seen this particular clip yet, don’t watch it unless you want to be disturbed on several levels. Stick to laughing babies and dancing dogs.
The video in question shows a sick and viscous attack on a 22-year-old transgender female by two other females outside a restroom of a McDonald’s in the Baltimore area. McDonald’s has fired the employee who chose to laugh and take pictures on a cell phone camera instead of interceding to prevent the beating.
It’s still unclear what triggered the assault, but apparently the sexual orientation of the victim played a motivating role.
It has been reported that Maryland authorities may file hate crimes charges against the two women involved, one of whom — sadly — is a juvenile.
Good for them. It’s time for prosecutors to double down on people who act with such blatant disregard for human decency. Charge them with hate crimes, battery, contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Charge them with having a burned-out turn signal on their cars if it will land them a longer sentence.
This incident, however, poses a larger conundrum for both sides of the political spectrum.
“Hate crimes” pose philosophical problems for both the left and the right.
The right has generally been opposed to hate crimes legislation on the premise that political or social intent should not be a factor in deciding whether an act is illegal. Bad acts are bad acts, regardless of the political or philosophical views of the actor. Opponents of hate crimes legislation argue that intentional violent crime is bad. The motive behind the violence — so long as it shows intent — should not be a factor in whether or not the conduct is illegal. Punish the criminals and be done with them.
The right has a point. Most would not consider the beating of a young woman any less vulgar and horrendous if it had not been motivated by some underlying homophobia.
Earlier this month, in London, a father was killed at another McDonald’s after he broke up a fight between two young men. There was no video. There was no “statutorily defined hate” involved. But the act was just as appalling.
Punish the act, not the motivation, they say.
If the right has problems with hate crimes, the left also can become just as perplexed when extending the idea to its logical conclusion. If a motive based upon political, religious or philosophical hatred should be a crime in itself, then that idea should be applied consistently. And, knowing that you really can’t put someone in prison for 150 years, the proper penalty for some crimes is, in fact, the death penalty.
But, the people on the left who support hate crimes legislation are generally the same folks who oppose the death penalty. Thus they find themselves in an ideological dilemma.
Apparently, those on the left would impose a penalty on the political or philosophical motive of a criminal, but only up to the point where the criminal himself would be killed. Proposing the death penalty for hate crimes sends the left into a philosophical tailspin.
Time for the left and right to reach a compromise on hate crimes
Personally, I favor hate crimes legislation. But I am a proponent for reasons that would make the heads of my liberal friends metaphorically explode.
The left usually accepts four purposes of criminal punishment: social control, rehabilitation, deterrence, and restitution. I nearly started a riot at law school when I suggested to my criminal law professor that there was a fifth purpose — retribution.
Society, I explained, needed to see that its justice system is willing to extract an ounce of flesh from criminals in order to assure the most vulnerable that the social contract works. People feel the need to inflict harm on those who cause harm. The death penalty, I surmised, had little to do with deterrence and everything to do with retribution.
I nearly had to perform CPR on my professor to restart his bleeding heart.
Hate crime motivation towards the victim has been a part of federal sentencing guidelines for over a decade, allowing a judge to increase a sentence by two levels. Let’s take the enhancement one step further by simply adding the words “up to and including the death penalty.”
Hate crimes legislation will never deter anyone from exacting violence on someone because of their particular protected class. Punishing capital hate cases with the death penalty would offer some assurances to people in those classes that the law works for them too.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.