Crimes of Hate and Terror

This week, we're all thinking about the Boston Marathon bombings, and what it all means. In thinking about justice in this case of terrorism, I reflected on why we treat such killing and injuring as something different than other, "regular" killing. I think it is because it strikes at the fabric of civil society; it's meant to terrorize a community when it is coming together in common cause and celebration. It strikes at the commons.

I think this relates to the reasoning behind hate crimes legislation. The gay writer Andrew Sullivan, a significant intellectual leader of the marriage equality movement (and one of my favorite writers, period), is adamantly against treating hate crimes as a separate category; the goal of the gay rights movement in his eyes, is equality, not special treatment. There's a lot of sense to this. But when a person is singled out because of the group they represent, that can portend bad things, as the Holocaust and other episodes of "ethnic cleansing" so clearly demonstrate.*

A question I have is whether "cop killing" also carries special weight. It seems to me that it would make sense if it did. Again, the strength of the fabric of civil society is at stake. I would never think to call myself a "law and order" guy, but respect for (not adulation or worship of, or excessive regard for) law enforcement is a part of the smooth and safe functioning of society.

I present these thoughts in the spirit of open reflection. I'm not an advocate, per se, of special punishment, as in the cases discussed here, but as I think about about it, I can see why it might make sense.

* As of this writing, the white supremacist killer in Kansas has not been charged with hate crimes, but with the most serious levels of murder charges.


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