The Fight Against Hate Essay

1722 words - 7 pages

In the summer of 1998, James Byrd Jr. was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for two miles along a dirt road by a group of people who were prejudice against his race. Four months later, two young men beat Matthew Shepard with a pistol and left him tied to a fence all night in near freezing weather because he was gay. These two attacks sent outrage throughout the country and inspired tougher punishments against hate crimes. (A hate crime is any crime that is committed due to a bias towards a particular group of people.) Currently, forty states and the District of Columbia have passed hate crime laws. Those laws ban any crime connected to bias based on gender, race, origin, sexual orientation, disability, or religion. Only nineteen of those states, however, have laws that include gender, twenty have laws protecting the disabled and twenty-one have sexual orientation laws. Florida has some of the toughest hate-crime laws, including: race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and even the homeless are protected under hate crime laws. These laws are necessary to promote equality because they affect people on a different level, they enforce laws that are not committed under regular circumstances, and adds a protection against anyone who can be discriminated against. James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard were killed on account of prejudice toward one of their traits. These laws are necessary to protect citizens like them from people who actively discriminate against them and to make sure these types of crimes are seen as the brutal crimes that they are.
It’s true that the boys who murdered Matthew and James would receive the death penalty with or without hate crime laws due to how heinous the crimes were, for acts like vandalism the crime committed is punished accordingly. For example, the act of spray painting “class of 2010” on one of the school walls and painting a swastika on a synagogue are two different acts of vandalism and should be treated as such. Without hate crime laws, both crimes would be classified as a class C misdemeanor, which is a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time. With these laws, the swastika would be punishable by receiving a $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail. “[T]he greatest value in such laws is the message that they convey to society that crimes against a particular group of people will not be tolerated”(Hate-Crime Laws, 3). Seeing the swastika would devastate the citizens attending the synagogue and the community around it. The graffiti didn’t just damage the building, but the hearts of the community as well. The laws are not able to punish thoughts or opinions, but the United States has the right to punish actions conveying such hatred by law. An act committed due to a bias against a person or group and an act committed under regular circumstances are two different matters. It’s no longer just the act that is considered; now it’s the meaning behind committing said act. When looking at the crime...

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