I wrote on May 15, 2011 upon hearing of the beating:
I'm terribly sorry to hear about this crime. Yglesias should make sure to take it easy for a few days after being punched in the head in case there is some delayed reaction affecting his balance -- e.g., don't ride a bicycle in traffic.
Beyond physical injuries, well, I've never been the victim of street violence, but judging from the psychological trauma I've felt merely from being the victim of burglars -- the reminder of one's own insecurity, the insult to one's self-respect -- that aspect of crime shouldn't be overlooked. And being punched and kicked by strangers is far worse.
Like me, Yglesias greatly enjoys walking, and being mugged while out walking can ruin a wonderful hobby.
No details on the attackers, but, with no apparent monetary motive, this might have been a racial hate crime.
It will be interesting to see whether this despicable violence against perhaps the leading opinion journalist of his young generation creates much media attention, or whether it's dropped down the memory hole as too uncomfortable to think about. Yglesias, with his enthusiasm for promoting urban living and walkability, is a leading spokesman for a broad movement I feel warmly toward -- well-educated younger people who are attempting to reclaim urban areas for the urbane. But this crime against a public face of the movement -- while he was walking through an urban space, no less -- demonstrates the risks involved.
For more on whether this could be considered a racial hate crime, see my post of May 16, 2011.
May 16, 2011
Thinking about hate crimes
The apparent random racial beating over the weekend of Matthew Yglesias, perhaps the most influential political blogger of his generation, raises questions about what ought to be considered a hate crime.
There's a vast amount of confusion in our society because the megaphone is routinely seized by hate-filled pundits who denounce everybody they hate as being driven by hate. So, the concept of a "hate crime" is murky, to say the least.
But, society does have an interest in deterring through harsher penalties crimes not of passion but of premeditated malice, cold-blooded crimes that occur only because of animus toward groups. Quite possibly, "hate crimes" is the wrong term completely for these types of actions, but that seems to be what we are stuck with.
My view is that motivation for a crime should matter some in punishing the crime.
For example, by way of analogy, I particularly loathe witness-murdering.
Consider two homicides:
- A man comes home and finds another man in bed with his wife. In a jealous rage, he strikes the man with a blunt object. He immediately calls 9-11 and asks for an ambulance for his victim.
- Two men are robbing a liquor store with a confederate. One robber realizes that the lone customer in the store went to school with him and could identify him. He tells his colleague (in a conversation recorded on a hidden security camera's microphone) that because he already has two strikes against him, if that customer testifies, he'll go to jail for life. So, he then shoots the customer and the clerk to silence them. There are no other motives for the murders.
I think that in an era of long sentences, the death penalty can play a useful role in stigmatizing and deterring cold-blooded witness-murdering, but it wouldn't be right in the first case, a classic crime of passion.
Similarly, consider two crimes that might be subject to additional hate crime penalties:
- A man comes home and finds another man in bed with his wife. In a jealous rage, he calls her a "bitch" and punches her.
- Two men are sitting around bored and decide to go "polar bear hunting," planning to punch any random white man they see walking through their neighborhood in the back of the head, then kicking him.
Now, it's not uncommon for prosecutors to attempt to pile on hate crime penalties in cases where a member of a less legally privileged group uses, during a fit of rage, an epithet for a member of a more legally privileged group. But, clearly, the cuckolded man didn't sock his cheating wife because she was a woman, but because she was cheating. Punishing him extra for saying the epithet "bitch" is severely confusing cause and effect for no good purpose in deterring future violence.
In contrast, the second case is one that the law might well use additional penalties to deter because, like witness-murdering, it's rational and malign. There's no other motive for attacking a random white man other than the satisfactions of attacking a random white man.
Or consider, these two cases:
- Two men are sitting around talking angrily about their neighbor who dissed them yesterday and might be making time with one of the guys' woman. Then they see a man who kind of looks like the neighbor walking by in the dark. Enraged, and under incorrect apprehension of his identity, they punch random passerby Matthew Yglesias in the back of the head.
- Two men are sitting around bored and decide to go "polar bear hunting" and thus punch in the back of the head the first white guy they happen to see walking by, who happens to be Matthew Yglesias.
The first case seems to me like a pretty average screwed-up crime among the screwed-up classes, which should be punished in a pretty average fashion -- fairly harshly, according to my views, but there's no obvious reason for incremental penalties. It wouldn't be the kind of crime that strikes other as worth imitating.
The second case, however, seems like a classic racist hate crime. There was no motivation whatsoever for this violence to occur other than boredom and racial animus. Society has an interest in punishing more heavily in the name of deterrence otherwise pointless crimes carried out not in the heat of passion but with malice aforethought.
At minimum, society has an interest in keeping stuff like this from becoming fashionable. Say, or example, a third person videoed the attack on Yglesias, and the whole point of the attack was to have something cool to post on YouTube.
Granted, proving in court the lack of any other motive is often difficult, and so be it. Better ten guilty men go free and all that. But, it is reasonable to have the threat of additional penalties for violence carried out for rational but malign reasons, such as witness-murdering or polar bear hunting.
Of course, all this logic chopping isn't very relevant to how most people think about hate crimes, which is in Who-Whom terms. Matthew Yglesias is extremely well-plugged into the world of Washington punditry, but it doesn't occur to his peers that this attack on him could possibly be a hate crime ... because he's white.
From my review in Taki's Magazine:
On May 14, 2011, Matthew Yglesias, a prominent Washington, DC liberal blogger and proponent of urban living, was walking home alone after a dinner with fellow pundits when he became the victim of an apparent anti-white racial hate crime. In what sounds like a game of Knockout King or Polar Bear Hunting, “a couple of dudes ran up from behind, punched me in the head, then kicked me a couple of times before running off” without stealing anything. This shameful attack happened merely a mile north of the US Capitol Building.
Four decades ago, a popular witticism was that a neoconservative was a liberal who had gotten mugged by reality. Today, the rules of crimethink have grown rigid enough that even getting mugged in reality doesn’t seem to have put much of a dent in Yglesias’s worldview, judging from his new e-book The Rent Is Too Damn High. ... Yglesias argues that if only real estate developers were freed to Build, Baby, Build, we would enjoy a low-rent golden age.
But, there's a problem with living in a low-rent neighborhood ...