When Does Motive Matter? November 28, 2015Posted 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.