Hate Crime Legislation Is as Pointless as the Death Penalty

David Myers, executive director of Center for Interfaith Projects, speaks during an anti-hate rally Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, in front of the Civic Center, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Proponents of the death penalty justify that policy by suggesting that it deters crime.

The problem is there’s no evidence that it does. There seems to be no causal relationship between the death penalty and crime incidence at all, anywhere.

So why bother with the expensive and legally/emotionally fraught exercise of putting prisoners to death?

The same question has to be asked of hate crime legislation. Political opportunists, seizing on an ugly incident in a Fargo Walmart parking lot, are demanding that North Dakota join a majority of other states in implementing hate crime legislation.

If hate crime legislation doesn’t deter crime, then it’s just virtue signaling. Low hanging fruit for politicians and activists.

The problem? As I pointed out in my Sunday print column, there’s no evidence that hate crime legislation deters crime. And if we can’t say that hate crime legislation makes us safer, then what’s the point of further complicating the criminal code?

A letter writer to the Fargo Forum today, reacting to my print column, argues that we need hate crime legislation. “The person who blows up one mosque is likely to blow up a second; putting him in prison for a very long time may not, as Port argued, provide general deterrent, but it does provide specific deterrent in that somebody sitting in prison is not likely to blow up another mosque,” John Sherman writes.

But that assumes that we’re not already putting people who blow up buildings in jail for a “very long time.”

We are, of course. And if we judge the punishment for that sort of a crime as too light, then we can certainly have a debate about stiffening it.

That is hardly, though, a justification for hate crime legislation.

If hate crime legislation doesn’t deter crime, then it’s just virtue signaling. Low hanging fruit for politicians and activists. Worse, it may actually be detrimental.

We have learned, in the “war on drugs,” that putting people in jail en masse for drug-related crimes may not be the best approach. Jail isn’t exactly a good place to deal with issues like addiction.

It’s also an unlikely venue for turning people away from bigotry.

Why on earth would we think that longer prison sentences will teach people not to hate?

Bigotry based on things like race and religion and sexual orientation are real problems in our society, but hate crime legislation is hardly the solution.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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