Act has value of life misplaced

Published 1:21 pm Monday, May 4, 2009

By Staff
Last week, the House passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, H.R. 1913, by a vote of 249-175. This hate crimes bill would expand the standing federal hate crimes law to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
Hate crimes are currently defined as crimes motivated by feelings of bias because of the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin. 
This legislation would also expand federal protection against hate crimes to acts committed under any circumstance, as opposed to acts committed only when an individual is engaged in certain federally-designated activities such as voting.
Under this bill, criminals who kill a homosexual, transvestite or transsexual or some other person in one of the “protected” categories would be punished more harshly than criminals who kill those not belonging to a “protected” class, such as a police officer, child, or senior citizen.
However, in Alabama, where the death penalty is imposed to punish certain murders, this bill would in fact prevent a court from ordering the death penalty for a hate crime murder.
The foundation of our justice system ensures equal protection under the law, yet this piece of legislation, by establishing different penalties for the same crime, places a higher value on one life over another.
Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason – justice is, or at least should be, handed down objectively, regardless who is brought before the court and regardless who the victim is. 
Simply put, all violent crimes should be prosecuted vigorously, no matter the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin.
The truth is every violent crime is devastating – regardless of what the motivation may be.  Whether or not a murder is committed because of a victim’s membership in a particular group – it is no less horrific or appalling than the murder of someone not belonging to a particular group.
Following the House vote on the hate crimes bill, the majority leader issued a statement saying this legislation is necessary “Because hate crimes…not only injure individual victims, but also terrorize entire segments of our population and tear at our Nation’s social fabric.”
I would argue all violent crimes terrorize society and tear at our social fabric, and all victims should have equal worth in the eyes of the law, regardless of race or status.
For these reasons, I did not support H.R. 1913 because at the end of the day, no piece of legislation can remove hate.  No matter how much we may disagree with a person’s thoughts, we cannot criminalize them.
As I mentioned, this bill did pass the House, and it now awaits action in the Senate.
Jo Bonner serves as a member of the house
of representatives.