Tuesday, March 16, 2004

On campus hate crimes and "reverse" hate crimes

This is what I wrote yesterday in response to Erin O'Connor:

First, I should say that I do believe in the usefulness of the "hate crime" category in American jurisprudence. But I also believe that people of color can commit these kinds of crimes -- I myself have sometimes been on the receiving end of racially-motivated verbal harassment from other people of color (though I have experienced harassment by young white men far more often).

In the case of racist graffiti, I think the category of hate crime is indispensible. On the question of the racist graffiti at Claremont College, would you be satisfied with a simple vandalism charge? I wouldn't. It's not the "hate" that is criminalizable, but the violence inherent in the use of language in particular ways. Language can wound (here I generally agree with Judith Butler's approach to hate speech in "Excitable Speech").

Second, I think one should remain skeptical in all claims of racially-motivated violence (whether white-on-black or black-on-white), especially when there is no hard evidence of racism on the part of assailants. Isn't it possible that the police investigation of the incident is accurate, and that the language the victim claims was used was not in fact used, or not used the way she says it was? I do acknowledge that many on the left often tend to believe victims over police when the perpetrators are people of color, while they (we) dismiss incidents like the Cornell case. Here it does seem that the assailants are getting off easy on the basic assault charges, and I extend my sympathies to the victim. But I don't find the author of the Cornell Review piece convincing on the question of whether this incident in particular should be called a hate crime.

No comments: