Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The media and hate crimes

Eugene Kane links to an interesting piece in the L.A. Weekly about press coverage of a case in Long Beach in which a mob of blacks allegedly viciously beat some white girls while shouting anti-white slogans and epithets. Kane, to his credit, thinks that the media has downplayed the case and its racial element because the perpetrators are black. The article considers how the media should cover this "man-bites-dog" story and quotes several commentators as wondering whether blacks "can" commit a hate crime or whether hate crime laws should be used against blacks.

First, is this really a "man-bites-dog" case? FBI statistics for 2005 show 3200 "anti-black" hate crimes (mostly committed by whites) and 935 "anti-white" offenses (mostly - but less so - committed by blacks). Looked at another way, the FBI identifies 1803 white "anti-black" offenders and 368 black "anti-white" offenders. Although I am just eyeballing the statistics, this strikes me as roughly congruent with the relative proportions of blacks and whites in the population. If we are going to have a thing called "hate crimes" it seems that blacks are at least just as likely to be charged as whites.

Apparently, that bothers some people. One concern, I suppose, would be over inciting white racism. If we publicize stories like the Long Beach attacks, we will be feeding white prejudices. Much of the same attitude can be seen among those who believe that it is problematic to put too much focus on high crime rates in the black community.

I am skeptical that much is ever accomplished by suppressing facts and the hate crime statistics themselves suggest that anti-black violence is not - proportionally - a more significant problem than anti-white violence undercutting the notion that there is a white monster just looking for an excuse to get out. I think this concern hints at a problem with hate crime laws which I will discuss below, but it is not a reason to cover up the wrong type of hate crime.

Another argument, expressed by Fara Chideya, of NPR, sounds like this:

"Some people say black folks cannot be racist because the root of the issue is power. So what do you make of this crime where you've got 12- to 17-year-olds and, you know, black people attacking whites? Is this a traditional hate crime? Should it be prosecuted as such? People in the community are kind of divided about that."

This has always struck me as a nonstarter. What, after all, is the evil in racism? I think that what resonates for most people is the denial of a person's individuality. The racist treats members of the disfavored racial group as things characterized by their race and whatever is associated with it rather than as unique human beings created in the image of God. It is just as bad when members of racial minorities do this as when the majority does it and, as the Sunnis and Shiites are showing us in Iraq, it can be just as deadly.

This brings me, at last, to one of the reasons that I oppose hate crime laws. While I understand the rationale - that an act motivated by race undercuts the notion that we should not act on the basis of race and risks the inflammation of racial tensions - that rationale does not seem to be well served by this kind of law. In deciding what it is or isn't a hate crime, we let considerations of race in through the backdoor. The idea that these laws can be administered and talked about in an apolitical way that is not itself infused with racial considerations seems impossible as suggested by the Long Beach case itself. In singling out racial crimes for heightened prosecution, it seems that we are as likely to inflame as to assuage racial tensions.


Anonymous said...

My rebuttal to the blacks-don't-have-
the-power-to-be-racist argument is: By that definition, the Afrikaners in South Africa can't be racist, only blacks in South Africa can be racist. Because blacks run all aspects of the state, and the Boers have no power.

I'd love to try that one on Michael Eric Dyson one day.

Seth Patinkin said...

Dear Oprah,

I am writing to you about discrimination which has been expressed by the selective enforcement of city ordinances against me with respect to my rental business in Southern Indiana once city officials discovered that I am a Jewish person.

More about me: I was named to the "30 under 30" list by my alma mater and did my PhD work at Princeton Univ. under John Nash. I am a applied mathematician/ entrepreneur in my day job.

In the years since I completed my undergraduate work at IU in 1998, I proceeded to buy a small number of rental properties in Bloomington, Indiana, which I have successfully run as a side business for a number of years.

However, about 2-3 years ago, the normal flow of my side rental business ran into some serious roadblocks.

It started when two housing inspectors made a number of explicit anti-semitic statements to me and to a Jewish tenant at one of my rentals.

Soon thereafter, four (4) groups of my otherwise law-abiding and happy tenants were threatened with $10,000 + fine (assessed PER tenant) for alleged ordinance violations.

Long story short, I was soon stuck with numerous vacancies and left paying the mortgage payments on these properties which were subsequently burglarized and vandalized. At the same time, the Housing Department caused complaint inspections to take place at these properties, identifying dozens and dozens of "defects" in the properties not otherwise noted in previous move-in inspections and causing me to incur thousands of dollars of needless "improvements".

And then the Legal Department went to work on me, filing at least five (5) lawsuits against me for alleged ordinance violations, and at the same time, the Legal Department Chief's wife, over at Student Legal Services, encouraged my erstwhile tenants to sue me for recovery of their security deposits, in spite of their breaches. I was soon dealing with about ten lawsuits at once.

So in April 2007, I filed a lawsuit against the City of Bloomington for violating my right to equal protection of the law, and a number of other civil rights violations. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I have become of the despotism of city government in small town Indiana. My attorneys have recently discovered that my case is not unique. Another Jewish landlord also has a case pending in federal court against the City, regarding the improper withholding of a building permit based upon the impermissible consideration that the prospective buyer of the commercial property in question was a Jewish investor from New York.

My life has been turned upside down by the systematic abuse of ordinances and
judicial proceedings. I find it outrageous that such a negative spirit still thrives in modern America. I would love the opportunity to talk about my story on your show, as I think it is in the public interest.

Seth Patinkin