The murder of a 32-year-old man in New York City’s West Village is being prosecuted under a “hate crime” law because the victim was targeted for being gay.
New York like many states has stiffer penalties for “hate crimes” motivated by bias against somebody’s sexual orientation, race, age, religion, etc. The idea behind this extra punishment is that “hate crimes” victimize an entire group of people.
In practice though, hate crimes are largely symbolic and frequently used to prosecute property crimes like graffiti more aggressively, according to Richard Kim, a gay scholar and executive editor of TheNation.com.
The fact that a hate crime law is being used to prosecute 32-year-old Mark Carson’s alleged killer will actually have little if any practical effect on the case, Kim tells us.
His alleged killer, Elliot Morales, is already being charged with second-degree murder, an A-1 felony that carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
New York’s hate crime statute says Morales has to get at least a 20-year sentence if convicted. In light of the brutality of the crime, Kim points out, a judge probably would have handed down a sentence of at least 20 years without the hate crime law.
“In the murder case, the hate crime law literally does nothing because he’s already being prosecuted for second-degree murder,” Kim told us.
Kim first started criticising hate crime laws in 1999, not long after a gay college student named Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming. At the time, Kim said there was no evidence that hate crime laws actually prevented tragedies like the one in Laramie.
Sadly, time has proved Kim right. The recent rise in attacks against gay men in New York suggests the state’s hate crime law hasn’t been enough of a deterrent.
Kim wants the anti-gay bullying and assaults to stop, and he thinks hate crime laws mislead the public into thinking the government has found a cure for the problem.
“There needs to be community-oriented solutions to the problem,” Kim said, “but hate crime laws don’t make them happen.”
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