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When Does Motive Matter? November 28, 2015

Posted by Sobek in News.

A friend of mine is up in arms because the media hasn’t called the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooter a “terrorist.”  There are two premises up there that don’t necessarily bear scrutiny – first, that the media hasn’t done so, and second, that the shooter actually targeted PP.  The first seems wildly unlikely, given that most reporters are radially pro-abortion, and the second is based on contradictory reports that don’t seem to have been verified yet.

But I’ll assume for now that both are true, because I want to think out loud about the issue of motive, and when it ought to make a difference.

Consider two hypothetical robberies, by Subject A and Subject B.  In both cases, the victim is robbed of his wallet, beaten severely, and left for dead.  The two victims lose the same amount of cash, suffer the exact same injuries, and spend the same amount of time in the hospital afterwards.  But for Victim A, the sole motive was getting his money.  Victim B was black, and during the robbery, the subject dropped the n-bomb a couple of times.  The subject was a racist, which can be easily demonstrated by his public statements.

Should we treat the two subjects – who caused the same monetary and physical injuries – similarly?  If not, why not?

Now let’s add two more hypothetical crimes, this time mass murder.  Subject C detonates a bomb in a public place, killing five people.  Subject D detonates a similar bomb in a public place, killing five people.  Subject C did it because he was an explosion enthusiast, and Subject D did it because he is a radical Islamic extremist.  Same amount of damage, same number of deaths and injuries, only the motives differ.

Should we treat the two subjects similarly?  If not, why not?

I use these examples because they tend to produce an anomaly in liberal thought, as far as I can tell. That is, the modern American liberal thinks hate crimes are especially egregious, and should be prosecuted and sentenced as such. But they tend to bristle when conservatives want to emphasize that Islamic terrorism is motived by Islam.  Why the difference?

I spend a lot more time thinking about terrorism than I do about hate crimes, so let me offer a few thoughts on that.  Terrorism is different from murder, in the sense that punishing the perpetrator after the fact is simply unacceptable. If the bad guy murders his wife in a domestic dispute, that’s bad enough, but we feel justice has been served when he is tried and convicted of murder.  But if the jihadi kills a bunch of people, then throwing him in jail or even executing him (hah!) doesn’t seem like enough.  The only way to win against a terrorist is to stop him from executing the plan in the first place, which is very different from catching, say, a bank robber.

With that in mind, it makes sense to treat Subject C differently from Subject D, not only on the back end but on the front end as well.  Extraordinary investigative powers are justified, even where no crime has yet been committed, because of the pressing necessity of stopping the crime from happening.  These investigative powers have no place in a drug trafficking case, or a child prostitution case, or a public corruption case, because in each of those, throwing the bad guy in jail is enough.

I don’t know that any of that reasoning applies to the hate crime analysis. It would be nice if there were no racists, but that goal won’t be reached through the penal system.  That is, no one is going to stop believing blacks are inferior just because they will do more time for a race-motivated assault than for simple assault.  Same thing with the jihadis, really – we can’t stop some people from thinking America is the Great Satan, and I don’t think our penal system has any business correcting anyone’s opinions on the matter.  We don’t care if the jihadis don’t like us, only that they don’t attack us.  The best way to accomplish that is to get them to see it’s futile to attack us, because we’ll catch them before they can strike.  Thus, extraordinary preventative measures make sense in one situation, but not in another.

But there still might be a reason to treat Subject B more harshly than Subject A, back in the hate crime scenario.  Because even though the monetary and physical harm is the same, there is another element – when Subject B attacked Victim B, he also sent a message that reached beyond Victim B, to the entire community.  You are not welcome here.  You are not safe.  You are subject to robbery, physical injury, maybe even death, just because of the color of your skin. That’s the same message that Subject D wants to send – you are the infidel. You will never be safe.  Convert or die (and if you convert, make sure it’s to the right sect, or it doesn’t count.  Oh, and we might kill you anyway).  Maybe the scope of the damage justifies extra punishment on the back end, even if it doesn’t justify extra investigative power on the front end.


1. Pupster - November 28, 2015

I dunno Sobek, I’ve always thought “hate crime” was a slippery slope, more so than “aggravating circumstances”. Subject A was treated to the same insult and injury as subject B, beaten and robbed. He doesn’t feel safe and welcome either, he just wasn’t called a bad word.

2. Sobek - November 28, 2015

That’s totally reasonable, Pupster. Another problem with the hate crime argument is that it basically says it’s worse to beat and rob a member of one group than of another, which means one person is more valuable than another.

But we do that sometimes, don’t we? It’s worse to punch an 80-year-old or a child than it is to punch me. Those folks are more vulnerable than I am, of course.

3. Pupster - November 29, 2015

We do that, but if justice is blind then the crimes are equal. I must admit I try to hold on to quite a bit of naïveté about our laws and enforcement systems. I’d like to think they are applied equally but reality and first hand experience have curb-stomped some of that.

4. Cathy - November 30, 2015

Great post, Sobek. Like Pupster — not fond of the hate crime label. Who gets to assess whether or not hate — an internal thought and/or emotion — was involved? Heck, in my Book all violence involves hate on some level.

Law enforcement and the courts should be able to assess motive and respond with appropriate levels of punishment that fit the crime. AND the notion that some level of profiling of those who are being taught to hate can be used by those in legitimate positions of authority (not the media) to anticipate, and prevent or curtail violent crime, is a good thing.

What does not work for me AT ALL is the idea that because I hate the ‘sins’ of abortion, violence, and murder, along with the ‘sins’ of lying, stealing, and deception because they all abuse others and to take something of value from them, that I ALSO will use violence against the ‘sinners’ of those sins.

I’m commanded to love the sinner and hate the sin. Not easy but possible.

As a Christian and broken human being, I have to work hard to love my enemies and pray for them daily. We’re also taught that government is ordained and permitted by God to help curtail violence and maintain an orderly society. We are commanded by God to obey to the best of our ability the laws of that government, even when we face godless people in government and godless laws.

That others, who are also sinful humans, project my rightly conceived hatred on the sinner rather than on the sin itself, is a real burr under my saddle. They have no right to project my hatred into a crime that I’ve not committed or would consider committing unless my own life were in danger.

I just heard on the radio this morning… The Thought-Police and Media are yammering that the shooter in Colorado Springs was motivated by the “anti-abortion rhetoric.” So being a crazy effed-up loner-loser who happened to also be disgusted by abortion is not mentioned. Abortion IS disgusting and it’s a righteous notion that it’s wrong to allow an organization to harvest for money the baby parts from innocent, unsuspecting humans still unable to defend themselves.

It’s all about power and money. So the TRUE HATE of the hate-filled tyrants in our society are AGAIN grabbing for Constitutionally protected guns and free speech rather than the logical sources of the problems.

Nothing new under the sun. Go figure.

5. Retired Geezer - November 30, 2015

Well said, Cathy.

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