publius gives the reasons I am personally in favor of hate crimes as a category of crime and see them as consistent with my rabbid commitment to free speech:
Cohen says that hate crimes aren’t really different from any other crime — so there’s no need for extra penalties. That’s not true. Hate crimes are specifically intended not merely to injure the individual, but to politically threaten the larger group and to deny them their civil rights.
Hate crimes, in short, are politics by extralegal means. Lynching in the South, for instance, wasn’t just a crime against an individual — it was a signal to the larger community. And so because hate crimes have additional consequences above and beyond the individual injury, they are more harshly punished. That’s the “real purpose.”
In one sense, all crimes criminalize “thought.” The American criminal justice system requires showing not merely an act, but an intent. If I fall down accidentally and kill you, I can’t be prosecuted. Yes, I committed an act of homicide, but I didn’t intend to do that act.
We’re not criminalizing thoughts or opinions. We inferring a specific type of criminal intent from tangible evidence — just like we must infer intent to murder from tangible evidence.