18 February 2012

An Argument Against Hate Crimes Legislation

A frustratingly superficial article at The New Inquiry includes a link to a powerfully compelling letter from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, arguing against added hate crimes provisions in New York's proposed Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). The letter also includes a very useful collection of links to reference material on hate crimes.

The entire letter is worth reading, but here's an excerpt to convince you to click over there:
As a nation, we lock up more people per capita than any other country in the world; one in one hundred adults are behind bars in the U.S. Our penalties are harsher and sentences longer than they are anywhere else on the planet, and hate crime laws with sentencing enhancements make them harsher and longer. By supporting longer periods of incarceration and putting a more threatening weapon in the state’s hands, this kind of legislation places an enormous amount of faith in our deeply flawed, transphobic, and racist criminal legal system. The application of this increased power and extended punishment is entirely at to the discretion of a system riddled with prejudice, institutional bias, economic motives, and corruption.

Trans people, people of color, and other marginalized groups are disproportionately incarcerated to an overwhelming degree. Trans and gender non-conforming people, particularly trans women of color, are regularly profiled and falsely arrested for doing nothing more than walking down the street. Almost 95% of the people locked up on Riker’s Island are black or Latin@. Many of us have been arrested ourselves or seen our friends, members, clients, colleagues, and lovers arrested, often when they themselves were the victims of a violent attack.

Once arrested, the degree of violence, abuse, humiliation, rape, and denial of needed medical care that our communities confront behind bars is truly shocking, and at times fatal.  In popular conception, hate crime laws were enacted to protect oppressed minorities against bigots who would seek to terrorize a community through violent crime: racist lynchings, gay-bashing, anti-Semitic violence, and so forth. Unfortunately, the popular imagining of the operation of hate crime laws does not bear out in reality. Hate crime laws do not distinguish between oppressed groups and groups with social and institutional power.

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