Why Hate Crimes Legislation Is A Terrible Idea: A Reminder

By Guest Contributor Yasmin Nair, originally posted at The Bilerico Project

We’ve seen a number of posts supportive of hate crimes legislation. The widespread perception is that only hate-mongering Republicans are against it, but in fact a lot of queer radical activists and groups are against it for entirely different reasons. Below are excerpts and links to just two examples of dissent. The first is a Sylvia Riviera Law Project Statement in April of this year that addressed the addition of hate crimes legislation to NY’s Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the second is a piece I wrote for Bilerico some months ago. Note that the SRLP statement was co-signed by FIERCE, Queers for Economic Justice, Peter Cicchino Youth Project, and Audre Lorde Project.

I’m working on collecting statements from a number of grassroots queer radical groups that are also against HCL; if you know of one in your area, drop me a line. I don’t want to give the impression that queer resistance can only be counted if it occurs within the framework of the Non Profit Industrial Complex. There’s a lot of amazing and usually unfunded queer radical work being done on prison abolition work, for instance, and I know those folk are against HCL as well.

I know this is likely to incite, shall we say, intense discussion. My point in providing the links below is to simply offer an alternative perspective on the issue, one that a lot of people may not have encountered or considered, given the way in which the gay media in particular portrays HCL as a progressive and much-needed reform. I’m writing a much longer critique of HCL, and I haven’t yet revisited my own earlier piece as I collect more data and analysis. I’m happy to have questions and critiques addressed to this post, and would be especially happy to be pointed to other critiques of HCL, or sent updates in relation to specific pieces of legislation. My hope for this piece is that it will encourage people to debate the matter in civil terms. Or at least to reflect on why we’ve invested so much hope in HCL.

From April 2009:

SRLP announces non-support of the Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Act!

As a nation, we lock up more people per capita than any other country in the world; one in one hundred adults are behind bars in the U.S. Our penalties are harsher and sentences longer than they are anywhere else on the planet, and hate crime laws with sentencing enhancements make them harsher and longer. By supporting longer periods of incarceration and putting a more threatening weapon in the state’s hands, this kind of legislation places an enormous amount of faith in our deeply flawed, transphobic, and racist criminal legal system. The application of this increased power and extended punishment is entirely at to the discretion of a system riddled with prejudice, institutional bias, economic motives, and corruption.

And:

There might be some cold comfort in “enhanced sentencing” if it actually benefited our communities in any way. Unfortunately, the harsher penalties of hate crime laws have not been shown to prevent or deter hate crimes. It is hard to imagine that someone moved to brutally attack a trans person would pause to consider that they might get a longer sentence. In fact, there is some evidence that longer sentences actually increase the chance that an incarcerated person will repeat a crime after they are released. Incarceration does nothing to address the root reasons why someone was violent or hateful; it only plunges them into deeper poverty, further isolates them from their community, and subjects them to further violence and trauma.

Read the rest here.

From my Bilerico piece: Loving Hate: Why Hate Crimes Legislation Is A Bad Idea

No one can deny that particular groups are in fact treated with discrimination and even violence. But rather than ask how about how to combat such discrimination and violence, we’ve taken the easy route out and decided to hand over the solution to a prison industrial complex that already benefits massively from the incarceration of mostly poor people and mostly people of color. It’s also worth considering the class dynamics of hate crimes legislation, given that the system of law and order is already skewed against those without the resources to combat unfair and overly punitive punishment and incarceration.

And:

We already have punishments in place for crimes, even the most violent ones. Whom does it benefit to enhance penalties for the same? Mandatory and draconian drug laws have done nothing to impede drug use, and only serve to increase the scope of surveillance against the poorest neighbourhoods, where laws against even the casual use of marijuana are used to haul the most marginal into jail.


Read the rest here.

For more on how queer activists are resisting the growth of the prison industrial complex, and their critiques of hate crimes legislation, go to QEJ’s archive of a phone conference on Police, Prisons and Queer Organizing. This features, among others, a new Seattle-based group, Queer and Trans Jail Stoppers.

Here’s the link to QEJ’s archive on Police, Prisons, and Queer Organizing.