On Good Friday, two men allegedly terrorized the north side of Tulsa, Oklahoma. By the end of the one day rampage, two men and one woman were dead and another two men were injured.
All five were African-American. The men who admitted to the crimes, Jake England and Alvin Watts, have been charged with several counts, including first-degree murder and malicious harassment, a charge that indicates the victims were targeted because of their race.
Also this month, Mississippi sent the first person ever to be convicted under their hate crimes laws to prison. He’s a young man named Daryl Dedmon, who, as a teenager, killed an African-American man with his truck after beating him and using racial epithets.
These cases, along with the more nuanced one of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman (who has not been charged with hate crimes), is causing many to wonder about these laws.
Critics have said that a person’s motivations don’t make their crimes worse and creates a situation in which a person’s ideology is put on trial. In the words of New York Times Editor Bill Keller, we should be careful about criminalizing defects in character.
On the other hand, many contend that crimes that are motivated by hate affect a wider swath of people than just the intended victim. When a cross is burnt in someone’s yard, the victim is terrorized, but so are their neighbors and friends.
Do a criminal’s motivations make their crime worse? Are hate crimes laws a way to regulate morality? We have a right in this country to say what we want no matter how hateful. So, do hate crimes laws violate first amendment rights?
Eugene Volokh, Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law
Mr. Jody Armour, Professor of Law at USC Gould School of Law