Good News

Rep. Jeanne Richardson is trying to get “gender identity added to the hate crimes statute.  I’d be glad to see this anyway, but I’m doubly glad to see it considering the situation in Memphis.

Oh, I know, “But B., just yesterday you were saying ‘fuck “intent.”  “Intent” doesn’t count for shit.  It’s the results of your actions.'”  (That’s right, I did just use the dreaded triply-embedded quotation mark.  I don’t even know if that’s legal, but I think I pulled it off masterfully.)

So, I’ve given this some thought.  Can one run around being all “I don’t care if his intentions were good, what he did was fucked up and that’s what counts” yesterday and today be all “If you intend to harm someone because of her gender identity, that should up your sentence.” and not be a hypocrite?

The answer is, “I don’t know.”

It doesn’t feel, from in here, like a contradictory position, because those feel like two very different uses of the word “intent.”  In the first case, “intentions” are just vague feelings and in the second case, “intentions” means your purpose.  If you intended for everything to work out well, that’s relying a lot on luck and your best wishes.  But if you intend to show those queers a thing or two, you have a purpose to your actions and that purpose is a problem for the whole community.

And it seems like considering the latter is appropriate.  The statute has a whole list of circumstances under which the status of a person’s victim would enhance his sentence–children, developmentally disabled people, firefighters, police officers, and so on.  I don’t see why adding people who don’t conform to gender expectations to it is any big deal.

(Though, interestingly enough, I bet you guys didn’t know this little bit was in there:

The defendant intentionally selected the person against whom the crime was committed or selected the property that was damaged or otherwise affected by the crime, in whole or in part, because of the defendant’s belief or perception regarding the race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, or gender of that person or the owner or occupant of that property; however, this subdivision (17) should not be construed to permit the enhancement of a sexual offense on the basis of gender selection alone

Emphasis mine.  Because god forbid we not see rape for the hate crime it is.)

Anyway, I don’t know.  I could be trying to argue for a distinction that isn’t there.

I’m still glad to see it.

8 thoughts on “Good News

  1. For me personally it does make a bit of difference. Lack of intent does not make a bad thing good, but the presence of it does make a bad thing even worse.


  2. It seems to me that what matters in these examples is outcome. If you intended good and shit turns out bad, then you’re still shit out of luck. But hate crimes are as much about outcomes as about intent – the reason they incur particular punishment is that the effect of targeting [religion or race or sex whatever] is to foster hostility against a group and cause them fear, crimes that are redoubled if not taken seriously by the law.

    And look at rape for a minute. I agree that rape should be considered a hate crime. Every rape reported in my city drastically changes the way I move and act, even in my own home; every rape victim dismissed by the law or media reminds me that I will have very little recourse or support if I choose to report an assault, and I am afraid. If that’s not fostering hostility against a group then I give up. But I would not even really talk about intent with this kind of crime. Sure, there are rapists who set out to rape come hell or high water – clear intent there – but then there are others who do not consider their assault to be rape, who may even think they like women or the particular woman involved, and therefore do not actually intend to rape or foster hostility against women.
    And yet that is what happens. So, that’s a hate crime in my books.

  3. I look at this a little bit differently, B., and I like your mention of police officers and firefighters. There are certain violations which carry the potential for enhanced sentencing when the victims are police officers (and, in some cases, firefighters). For example, we have one in Illinois that we call Scott’s Law. In all laws of this type, the surface assumption is that the protected classes carry a greater burden for maintaining order in society, and therefore require a greater legally sanctioned protection from harm.

    I think you’ll generally find that those opposed to ‘hate crimes’ statutes aren’t much opposed to sentencing enhancements for crimes against public safety officers. Perhaps it is because public safety officers are generally recognized as our guardians of order. We assume that order to be largely physical, but– especially in the case of police officers– the protected order is also social and political. In the real world, that social and political order has a hierarchy; some people are deemed more deserving of protection from harm (physical or otherwise) than others. Call me a pessimist, but I think history (including very recent history) has proven that the system of order we all mostly accept reinforces this hierarchy, and that many powerful and influential institutions of our society will reflexively bend over backwards to protect it (case in point here).

    That’s where I believe a lot of the resistance to hate crimes legislation comes from. These laws are a codified acknowledgement that our preferred system of order routinely fails to offer ‘equal protection under the laws.’ In other words, the failure is not a bug, it is a feature. Challenging that inequality would upset the preferred order, and to many people that is too threatening to let pass without some serious whining and foot stomping.

  4. I’ve wondered this myself. If a person is dead, s/he’s dead, no matter what the killer was thinking at the time. But the paragraph you quote at the end seems to change things for me. The “hate” part of a hate crime might not be in the intent, but in the “selection” of the victim, that selection being an act, not a thought. Eh?

  5. Sam, I’m glad to see you. They had your church fire on the news clear down here and I was wondering if you fought it and if you were okay.

    And, of course, I think you’re right–that hate crime laws are designed to give victims who, under are current system, have difficulty finding any justice, a little help.

    O.C., that’s where I’m coming down, too. That the deliberate selection of your victim is what the “hate crime” legislation is designed to address, not what was in your heart. And that’s why I support it.

  6. Thanks, B. I was on Engine 42 that morning, and we were among the first arriving companies. I never went inside, since my job was to connect the hoses and supply water, but there wasn’t much danger to anyone after the first few minutes. An interior attack quickly proved fruitless, so the incident commander wasted little time calling everyone out of the building since there was no one inside who needed rescuing. We had to wait for it to burn through the roof a bit before we could put it out with our tower ladders, but I wasn’t there for the end since the following shift relieved us as the scene at about 0715.

    It’s a shame that so much damage was done to the church, but church fires are always among the most difficult and potentially hazardous for us because of the quirky construction and unpredictable contents of most churches. In this case, the Holy Name Cathedral has a sprinkler system, but even that proved to be useless as the fire started above the sprinkler pipes. I hope the water damage isn’t so severe that it can’t be repaired. Oh, well. I’m exhausted and I’m rambling.

  7. This is, though, I think one of the wonders of the internet. I would never know you without it and now, when I see something about firefighters in Chicago, it feels immediately real to me because I know it could be you.

    If the internet can help facilitate that for the whole world–make events seem more immediate and real–I think that will be a very good thing.

    They said that the sanctuary wasn’t damaged at all, so that’s good. Get some rest, my friend.

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