Hate Crime Legislation: Does it Work?
Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report discusses the spread of hate crime legislation, which he argues tends to cause more problems than it solves
Sharmini Peries: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. With the rise in terrorist attacks in Europe and in the United States and because of the way in which the corporate media and its political figures exploit these isolated attacks, these incidences have fueled anti-Muslim hatred in Europe and right here in the United States. Then if we add to this Trump’s Muslim ban policies and his anti-Muslim sentiments and rhetoric, as well as, the way in which it is widely repeated by his aids and pundits who uncritically embrace such racist sentiments, all of this gives rise to hate crimes not only against Muslims, but also Blacks, and Black Muslims, and Latinos, and other minorities. What is the answer to all of this? Some jurisdictions have turned to hate crime legislation to protect people from hate crimes. Well, are these legislations there to protect them? Well, let’s find out. This is the topic of my conversation today with Glen Ford. He’s the Executive Editor of the Black Agenda Report. Thanks for joining me, Glen.
Glen Ford: Thanks for inviting me.
Sharmini Peries: Glen, how widespread is hate crime legislation, how long has it been in the books, and why were they put on so many legislative books?
Glen Ford: Well, the hate crime legislations heyday was back in the eighties and there are only five states in the country now that don’t have hate crime legislation. I believe they’re South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Wyoming, and Indiana. Everybody else has some kind of hate crime legislation. When we talk about a push to increase the severity of hate crimes, we’re really talking about longer prison sentences in the main. Sometimes we’re talking even more severe kinds of penalties. One example, in Kansas a Black State Senator, his name is David Haley, he’s pushing a bill that would double the prison term for people who commit crimes because of hate and not only would he double the prison time, but Haley’s bill would make it impossible to appeal the sentence once you’re convicted.
In Louisiana last year we saw a rash of hate crime activity in the states after Ferguson and Black civil disorders. In Louisiana last year the democratic Governor pushed a bill through the state legislature, which brought police officers under the protection of hate crime laws, which means that a person can receive a much more severe sentence for doing harm to a police officer if they can prove that you don’t like cops. The NAACP fought against that bill, but it passed unanimously in the House of Louisiana and there were only three votes against it in the State Senate, which means that almost every Black lawmaker in the state of Louisiana went along with this bill that treats police as a protected class. As if the police aren’t already the most protected class in the country. I mean that legally and I mean that literally.
I oppose hate crime laws and I oppose them just as I oppose attempts to pass laws that are directed against so-called hate speech. In the end, these kinds of laws always wind up being turned against the very people that they are supposedly designed to protect. I know whose speech is going to be prosecuted in this country and his name is not Donald Trump. Hate crime laws don’t alter the balance of power in the criminal justice system itself, and that’s where the fault lies. The people who get arrested the most and get the longest sentences, are still going to be people who are Black and who are poor. The people who get away are still going to be people who are White and people who have money. White people got away and still get away with burning Black churches and with attacking Black people with justification.
They’ll get away with that under the hate crime laws, because the hate crime only goes into effect after one is convicted of the predicate crime. White folks and cops are not convicted of harming Black folks much anyway in this system. In the case of Kansas, the hate crime bill removes constitutional protections against the abuse of power by the state. The system is certainly not one that has been soft on cops, but the cops have all the protection they need. It is Black people who come under the boot of the law who need constitutional protections and this Kansas law lessens them, chips away at those protections. Hate crime laws as they actually exist in the United States, not how people think they work, are not a civil rights issue. In fact, they are a threat to civil rights and to civil liberties. They make sentences longer and they destroy constitutional protections in a country that is already the champion, premier, number one police state in the world.
Sharmini Peries: Now, Glen give us an example of how New York City dealt with their hate crime legislation and how it is being used by the police force in a way sort of turning the tables on what it was intended to do as an example.
Glen Ford: When New York City made hate crimes illegal, the police union urged cops to make complaints about hate crimes on a systematic basis. 80%, there was a period during which 80% of the complaints about racial bias in speech recorded by the civilian police review board in New York City came from the cops. The cops were loading up the system and laughing at the law by claiming that they were the victims of racial bias. Mostly it involved cases in which the people they were arrested allegedly called them names. I can imagine more like, “Stop hitting on me you cracker cop,” and that becomes a hate crime. The people with power in the system can always game the system. This urge to somehow pile on penalties and create these draconian kinds of incentives for people or disincentives for people to do wrong, always redound to the detriment of the poor folks and the powerless folks.
I’m reading a wonderful book right now called Locking Up Our Own. It’s written by James Forman Jr. He’s the son of the noted civil right’s leader, James Forman, former head of SNCC and he basically details how the Black political class went along with and in many cases took the lead in passing these draconian sentencing laws in the seventies, and the eighties, and the nineties, believing that they were protecting the Black community, but brick by brick creating the whole edifice of mass Black incarceration. James Forman called this, “Unintended consequences.” I think the same kind of thing can happen with these hate crime laws.
Sharmini Peries: All right. Glen, as always, thank you very much for your insights here, particularly your historical insights and this time for your reading list. I thank you so much.
Glen Ford: Well, thank you, I wanted to call attention to this really wonderful book by James Forman, Locking Up One’s Own right here.
Sharmini Peries: Good to have you with us Glen and thank you for watching us on The Real News Network.