Further issues concerning hate and harm

22 augusti 2012 | In Uncategorized | Comments?

In his influential 2008 book ”Hate Crime and the City” (the City is London, and there is no further structural or thematic similarities to the HBO series) Paul Iganski provides an excellent interdisciplinary account of hate crime. I will now do something very mean spirited to it: I’ll pick a single sentence – sentence FRAGMENT – out of its context and tell you that what’s wrong with it illustrates one serious flaw in the ”hate debate” (Incidentally the title of another volume, edited by Iganski. It too has an interesting single flaw. I’ll get back to it.) Here it is:

…however, what distinguishes ‘hate crime’ from other types of crime is that all ‘hate crimes’ generally hurt more than parallel crimes.

As previously mentioned, Iganski has provided evidence to the effect that hate crimes tend to hurt more than similar but otherwise motivated crimes. But that’s not what this sentence says: It says that ALL hate crimes GENERALLY hurt more. The ”All” is superfluous or misleading, and offsets the important qualification that hate crimes GENERALLY, but not always, hurt more than parallel crimes.
But the ”all” is not really an innocent typo: it carries the weight of the claim that this is what DISTINGUISHES hate crimes from parallel crimes. Of course it isn’t. In order for the claim to be made that one type of crime causes more harm than another there must ALREADY be a distinction of types. Otherwise, ‘hate crime’ would be the class of crimes that tend to hurt more than parallel crimes, and then ‘hate crime’ is a fantastic misnomer. And if ‘hate crimes’ would be distinguished by tending to cause more harm, then the claim that they tend to cause more harm carries no information.
Iganski intends to provide a victim-centered conceptualization of hate crime, that’s why impact matters and should be part of the ‘hate crime’ function. But then something else is needed, a specific ”kind” of harm, say, that’s only contingently (but strongly) related to hate motivated crimes. But then we need more illumination: Is there such a typology of harms, and what is it’s normative significance?

As mentioned earlier in these posts, there is no problem justifying blanket punishment enhancement for types of crimes on the basis of their contingent propensity to cause harm. The distinguishing mark, however, should lie elsewhere.

Rather then positing a type of harm, a ”victim centered approach” of hate crime could, and should, take an indirect route: via the victims perception of the motivation of the offender and/or content of the offense. This makes more conceptual sense, as almost all formulations (‘hate’, ‘bias’, ‘hostility’ crimes) does focus on the mental state of the offender as the distinguishing feature.



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