Wednesday, May 09, 2007

donnelly explains

last week, the US house passed a new federal hate crimes bill. the new bill augments the existing federal hate crimes law that has been on the books for decades to add new protections based on sexual orientation.

it was a good day for progressives... well, for most of them. 14 democrats voted against the bill, angering their progressive constituents. (of course, 166 republicans, including all four of indiana's, also voted against the bill, but that's hardly a surprise.) among those 14 were two freshman democrats from indiana, joe donnelly and brad ellsworth.

many progressive-minded hoosiers felt betrayed by donnelly and ellsworth, and demanded an explanation. that's where blogger bil browning of bilerico comes in. bil not only got in touch with the offices of donnelly and ellsworth, he got both congressmen to agree to guest blog their responses on bilerico. this is undoubtedly a brave move by the congressmen, who had to know that the audience at bilerico, probably the largest LGBT blog in the state, would be hostile (or at best unsympathetic).

rep. ellsworth will post tomorrow; rep. donnelly's post is up now. and while the commenters there are already tearing his opinions apart, i'll chime in here briefly.

I took many factors into consideration before ultimately deciding to vote against H.R. 1592. Not least of those factors was the input I received from my constituents. All told, I received nearly five times as many calls, emails and letters from opponents of the bill as I did from its supporters.

this is sort of an interesting point. let's ignore for a moment that many of those anti-1592 calls were almost certainly part of an organized campaign by groups such as the AFA, and that many of them probably originated from outside donnelly's district (if not out of state). we'll even ignore the polls that suggest that a sizable majority of hoosiers were in favor of this bill. and we'll assume for the sake of argument that donnelly's constituents truly were oppposed to this bill 5 to 1.

is it an elected official's job to represent the will of his constituents, even if they are on the wrong side of an issue? if your conscience tells you that the correct, moral way to vote is yes, but your constituents overwhelmingly want you to vote no, what should you do? i would think that "yes" would be the right vote, no matter what your constituents say. still, there is an argument to be made that you should vote "no" against your conscience, because you are supposedly there to represent your constituents.

But that was not the only factor: I also question whether a federal hate crimes law would truly be effective in ending the abhorrent acts of violence that are fueled by hate.

The sad reality is that all violent crimes are in some way born of hate. I am sickened at the thought of any human being acting out in violence against any other human being. Thankfully, our society decided hundreds of years ago that acts of violence perpetrated against innocent individuals should be forbidden. These acts are criminal and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

this is pure right-wing spin. there are a number of problems here:

1. there is already a federal hate crimes law on the books, and has been forever, protecting people against hate crimes based on their race, religion, or what have you. this new bill simply extends those protections to sexual orientation and gender identity, and makes them more enforceable. (and remember: you don't have to be gay to be a victim of gay-bashing; your attackers only need to think you are.)

2. it is simply not true that "all violent crimes... are born of hate". donnelly makes a point to say "violent crime", so this argument isn't as absurd as its more generalized form, "all crimes are hate crimes". (when i got carjacked at gunpoint several years ago, the guy didn't do it because he hated me; he did it because he wanted the car i was driving.)

some violent crimes are crimes of passion: you catch your lover in bed with someone else and you snap. some are committed because of mental illness. some are committed out of sheer economic desperation. and some are committed in the course of an otherwise non-violent crime that goes horribly wrong. there are lots of reasons why violent crimes get committed; "hate" is only one of them.

furthermore, a fundamental difference between a hate crime and a "normal" crime is not whether the perpetrator hates the victim, but how it affects others in the community. if i kill my neighbor because he's a jerk and i hate him, that's not a hate crime. but if i kill him because he's black and i hate blacks, that is a hate crime, because it could potentially terrorize any other blacks who live in the community. (and if i spray-paint the n-word on his house after i kill him, it will almost definitely terrorize any black neighbors.)

put simply: hate crimes are a form of terrorism. they send an unsubtle message to minority groups that "we don't like your kind 'round here. in fact, we beat up and kill your kind 'round these parts." this is why hate crimes are worse than non-hate crimes, and why they deserve harsher punishment.

The chief law enforcement officers in our communities-our prosecutors-do their level-best to punish violent criminals for their actions. For this service, we owe them a debt of gratitude. However, prosecutors, whether at the local, state or federal level, cannot eradicate hate from our society. It is up to us-in how we raise our children and how we treat one another-to limit the impact hate has on our communities. But as long as there are people who hate, envy or are jealous or angry, there will be violent crimes against innocent people, regardless of whether a federal hate crimes law like H.R. 1592 is on the books.

way to vanquish that straw man, congressman. of course, the point of hate crime legislation is not to "eradicate hate from our society". nobody thinks they will. hell, by that line of thinking, why do we have laws against violent crime at all? "there will still be violent crimes agains innocent people" no matter how strict our laws are, so what's the point, right? we should do away with all laws against violent crime and instead work on stamping out the real cause of all crime: human emotion.

of course, there are many real reasons to support hate crime legislation: to protect victims, to encourage victims to report hate crimes committed against them, and to ensure that perpetrators are adequately punished considering the severity of their crimes. and, perhaps most importantly, to send a symbolic message that we do not tolerate that crap here in america.


arratik said...

our local congressman, heath shuler (himself a freshman dem), voted against it as well. i put a post up @ scrutiny hooligans (the political blog i contribute to) that was extremely critical of shuler and went as far as suggesting that maybe he should switch parties (he made an appearance at a function held by civitas, a raleigh-based right-wing talking point mill that calls itself a "think tank", so he's been making a lot of conservative noises as of late anyway). ever since then, we've been getting a good deal of traffic from the domain. it's kinda surreal; it's not even election time yet.

hey, off the subject, i'm really digging "parts is parts". it's some of your best work.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story, Stallio! I hope you'll still comment on the site and talk directly to the Representative. He needs to hear from other Hoosiers especially!