Richard Cohen, writing on Tuesday, had this to say about James von Brunn, the man who attacked the Holocaust museum earlier this year:
He also proves the stupidity of hate-crime laws. A prime justification for such laws is that some crimes really affect a class of people. The hate-crimes bill recently passed by the Senate puts it this way: “A prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim . . . but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected.” No doubt. But how is this crime different from most other crimes?
First, let us consider the question of which “community” von Brunn was allegedly attempting to devastate. He rushed the Holocaust museum, which memorializes the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis and their enablers. There could be no more poignant symbol for the Jewish community. Yet von Brunn killed not a Jew but an African American — security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns.
So which community was affected by this weird, virtually suicidal act? Was it the Jewish community or the black community? Since von Brunn hated both, you could argue that it does not matter. But since I would guess that neither community now gives the incident much thought, the answer might well be “neither one.” So what is the point of piling on hate crimes to what von Brunn has allegedly done? Beats me. He already faces — at age 89, remember — a life sentence and, possibly, the death penalty.
The real purpose of hate-crime laws is to reassure politically significant groups — blacks, Hispanics, Jews, gays, etc. — that someone cares about them and takes their fears seriously. That’s nice. It does not change the fact, though, that what’s being punished is thought or speech.
Actually, the real purpose of hate crime laws is to punish terrorism.
Yes, I used the t-word. A hate crime is one where the victim was a target only because of membership in some group (frequently a disprivileged or discriminated against group.) Hate crimes have the effect (even if the intention is not always so far-reaching) of terrorizing that group; of reminding them that they are in danger by virtue of who they are; of reminding them that violence remains the prerogative of the powerful.
Cohen sarcastically asks, “which group was terrorized?” which seems so disingenuous coming from a Jewish person. Can he not see that one of the effects of von Brunn’s attack was to remind people that just being at a Jewish cultural institution is dangerous? If even one person decides not to go to the Holocaust Museum because of von Brunn’s actions, doesn’t that make what he did terrorism?
People forget, I think, what the purpose of terrorism is: it’s not to kill people. September 11th remains the worst terrorist act in history, and the casualty count would barely make the list of interesting battles of the American Civil War. No. The point of terrorism is terror: the use of asymnetric violence to break the morale of a militarily superior society; to make all people, not just soldiers in combat, afraid of violent death; to cause people to change they way they live, to bring the battle home to them.
Cohen understands this, even if he doesn’t seem to appreciate it–maybe because he doesn’t think his example affects him:
If there’s a murder in a park, I’ll stay out of it for months. If there’s a rape, women will stay out of the park. If there’s another and another, women will know that a real hater is loose. Rape, though, is not a hate crime. Why not?
Four people are confirmed dead and nine others were wounded when a gunman opened fire inside the L.A. Fitness in Collier Township Tuesday night.
The shooting happened shortly after 8 p.m.
The county coroner’s office has identified the gunman as 48-year-old George Sodini from Scott Township. [...] Sodini was keeping an online diary where it appears as if he was planning the shooting for about nine months. He also detailed on the site how he attempted to carry out the shooting once before, but backed out.
Right now, there’s at least one woman worried about going to the gym because she might be cornered there and shot simply because she’s a woman. (I know that for sure, because she is me.) This isn’t a random crime, or an act of desperation by a criminal: this is a cold-blooded act of mass murder, an act of “revenge” for a mythical wrong, a crime designed to make a whole group of people feel afraid.
It’s terrorism. And we shouldn’t stand for it.