OK, then, “intent”

One nice thing about blogging is it gives us ordinary citizens the same prerogative that members of Congress enjoy to "revise and extend" our remarks.

Several commenters argued that the previous post blurs the distinction between "motive" and "intent" — and that rather than use these terms interchangeably, I ought to have used only "intent" throughout.

Fair enough. Let's do a universal search and replace:

* * * * * * * * *

Intent is a monumentally important part of our criminal code. Identical deeds can be very different crimes if the intent in the two cases are different. By intent, of course, we mean what the criminal is thinking. …

Different intent, different crimes and thus appropriately different punishments. Different thoughts, different crimes and thus appropriately different punishments.

The reason I chose Tony Perkins for this little review of the obvious is that Perkins doesn't believe in any of this. He thinks any consideration of intent is out of bounds in a criminal statute. Different punishments for different intent is, to Perkins, legislating "thought crimes."

Thus, Perkins believes, there is no legitimate difference among the cases above — no legitimate legal distinction between manslaughter and first-degree murder. To pretend there is such a distinction is to criminalize intent — to criminalize thought.

* * * * * * * * *

The main point is unchanged. Intent matters. To pretend that hate-crimes are unique because they "criminalize intent" is to ignore that intent is a factor in almost every kind of crime. Intent can be a mitigating factor, or it can be an aggravating factor. It can be exculpatory, or it can implicate the suspect in additional crimes. This is nothing new.

If someone beats up Person X, that's a crime. Assault is assault is assault. And it's certainly true, as Perkins and the FRC argue, that assault is already against the law. But if Person X was selected as a victim because the assailant intended to "send a message" — i.e., to terrorize — everyone else like Person X, then the assailant has not only committed one crime. In addition to the assault, the assailant has terrorized an entire community of people, and done so intentionally. That is also a crime and those victims too deserve justice and the protection of the law.

  • Rosina

    That’a basically what I was thinking of – they decide they hate black people, or gay men, and target them, just using the crime/criminal as justification for calling themselves ‘vigilantes’ rather than gay-bashers. The ‘neighbourhood watch’ patrols who will assume that any poor or black person in their streets after dusk (or before) is a potential burlgar or rapist could easily degenerate into a lynch mob.

  • Jeff

    An exchange between Jesu and Rosina up aways got me top thinking (always dangerous, I know) on the role of the rich and the poor in hate crimes.
    To wit: In general, the rich incite the crimes and the poor commit them. The founders of Operation Rescue posted the names and adresses of doctors (in a cross-hair) on their web-site; it was, by-and-large, economically disadvantaged individuals who committed the murders. The Government leaders and DJs in Rwanda who flared animosity into ethnic “cleansing” were not the ones walking around with machetes. I think that, in general, there’s some Rush Limbaugh wannabe running his mouth, who, when someone takes him at his word, says “Gorsh, I didn’t mean that!”.
    Both Jesu and Rosina are right — the hate flows from a powerful class to a less powerful class, but it also flows from the rich members of a powerful class to poor members of a powerful class, who are led to believe that it’s the members of the less powerful calss that’s keping them down.
    Does that make sense?

  • Rosina

    Both Jesu and Rosina are right — the hate flows from a powerful class to a less powerful class, but it also flows from the rich members of a powerful class to poor members of a powerful class, who are led to believe that it’s the members of the less powerful calss that’s keping them down.
    For me, yes, except that I’m not so sold on the idea of a unicellular white male class as Jesurgislac. Maybe I’m a Marxist, but I see the split between rich and poor as being as wide as that between black and white, or nearly. Britain in the nineteenth century didn’t have a ‘black’ underclass, but the poor still fought among themselves for those falling crumbs. So poor members of a powerful class isn’t quite the way I see it. I’d rather say that the some members of powerful classes (rich employers/landowners/politicians/media people) can use one segment of the lower classes to carry out their hate policies by appealing to apparently shared interests. But at least it isn’t always in their interests to stir up hatred (which could cut profits, damage property, lose them custom).

  • Jesurgislac

    Jeff: I think that, in general, there’s some Rush Limbaugh wannabe running his mouth, who, when someone takes him at his word, says “Gorsh, I didn’t mean that!”.
    Or, if it’s a Bill Donahue, says “Yeah, I meant it, and I’d like to cut more than just your head off!”
    Rosina: For me, yes, except that I’m not so sold on the idea of a unicellular white male class as Jesurgislac. Maybe I’m a Marxist, but I see the split between rich and poor as being as wide as that between black and white, or nearly.
    Depends on the society you live in, doesn’t it? There is a power gap between rich and poor: also between male and female: in racist cultures, between white and black: in Rwanda, between Hutu and Tutsi: in homophobic cultures, between straight and gay.
    You can’t really consider any one power gap in isolation in any culture.

  • X

    I don’t know that it always is the rich leading the poor if you look at the sociology of it. The rich tend to be much better insulated from economic threats of neighbors/immigrants. They don’t lose their jobs.
    Plus also any mass type of violence is going to have to be mostly run by poor people, if only because there’s more of them. If all the rich people in Podunksville Mississippi formed a posse, I’m sure they’d be a frightening pair, but… Plus they’d mess up on remembering which end of the pitchfork you wave away from you, and it might make them spill their Martini.
    ps. On the topic of racial love and harmony, does “nappy-headed” have a specific meaning / is a reference to something? I’ve seen it about a bazillion times this week (and that’s just on the Daily Show), but can’t figure out if it’s the made-up equivalent of “booger-pants,” or is a more nefarious reference.

  • ako

    “Nappy-headed” is a potentially insulting way of referring to someone having extremely kinky hair. I’m not sure of the precise current connotations of black people using it to describe themselves, but it has a history of being used as an unflattering description of black people with particularly African hair. It ties in with a lot of that historic “the blacker you look, the uglier you are, and the whiter you look, the prettier” stuff. A white man saying “nappy-headed hos” is insulting black women for being (and looking black) and for being women.
    And in case anyone’s going to start on the “Why can they say it, but I can’t!” whining, everyone’s free to say it. Police aren’t going to arrest anyone for calling someone nappy-headed, no matter what color they are. Anyone’s free to say it, free to conclude that someone who talks like that is a racist jackass, free to decry, insult, or avoid the racist jackass, and free to make it clear they don’t want to associate with businesses that pay to give that racist jackass a prominent place from which to air his views.

  • Jesurgislac

    I’ve never known all that many black people – in my part of the UK, the recent (as in, in the past century or so) immigrants mostly came from Italy, Ireland, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and China: not many from the West Indies or from any African country. But I remember the real crawling shock when I realised that, given that most of the black women I knew had not had the kind of very tight curls that (I personally) find extremely attractive, that meant most of them had likely spent hours out of each week having their hair “hot combed” or “relaxed” (chemical gunk that takes the curl out of hair). And I’d never known, and they’d never mentioned it to me. Since then I’ve read considerable personal/historical anecdote about the way black women are as strongly pressured to force their hair into unnatural straightness as women in general in the UK are strongly pressured to shave off visible body hair. And “nappy hair” is apparently the American term for hair that hasn’t been unnaturally straightened and mucked about with. It’s a peculiarly racist insult: as ako says, it derives from the strong historical tradition that the more white a black person looks, the more attractive they are.

  • X

    Ah, thanks for the explanation. I think I was extra confused about it, because growing up in England, nappy means “diaper”… which, while a highly unflattering comparison also seems an extremely bizarre association.
    BTW, on the topic of Black women feeling pressure to look white, extremely moving video
    It’s been nominated for an award in the Cosmo Girl born to lead competition (it was made by a 17 year old), and you can go and vote for it if you want here

  • Jeff

    In Whoopi Goldberg’s “Concert at Carnegie Hall”, she does a tour-de-force playing 5 characters including a junkie at Anne Frank’s house, a surfer-girl and, pertinent to this discussion, a little girl (2 to 5, but I’m don’t recall the exact age) who wishes for long blonde hair. All of the characters are very moving, but the little girl makes you see the pressure that young African-Americans are under to “look white”.
    I remember when “10″ came out and white women started wearing corn-rows to match Bo Derek. It was said by my black friends that white would copy 2 attributes associated with blacks (thicker lips, braids, tan), but no more. It’s very odd to see that in action today, with collegen lips and big butts, but Blacks still pressured to look “white”.
    X, you mis-read what I wrote. The rich don’t get their hands dirty with posses and all that. They keep the poor from getting their fair share by giving them an easy target.

  • Bugmaster

    what you’re doing is saying: “I don’t believe hate crimes exist, and therefore no evidence showing hate crimes happen is acceptable to me.”
    Obviously, crimes motivated by racial or other hatred do happen. I merely question your approach in combating them, as contrasted with your approach to combating other crimes. My claim is that, while I’d like for these crimes (and, indeed, all crimes) to go away, creating a whole new category of “hate crime” does not have a net positive effect.
    But then, I’m an oppressive member of the white male patriarchial elite, and thus nothing I say should be trusted, because I couldn’t possibly be motivated by anything other than preserving my precioussssss privilege. I suppose we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • Bugmaster

    On the other hand, I haven’t known about gollywogs and nappy-headedness, until this thread, as far as racism is concerned. And now I know. It seems that free speech can be a good thing, no ?

  • X

    BM,
    I think she’d find it more convincing if you said: “I’m totally cool with losing and and all White privilage I have. I just want everyone to be equal anyway.”
    Of course, then she’d accuse you of not walking the walk to get rid of it, because you aren’t endorsing strong enough action against it, but hey, baby steps towards meeting in the middle, eh.

  • X

    ANY and all.
    I need to proof read more

  • Jesurgislac

    Bugmaster: My claim is that, while I’d like for these crimes (and, indeed, all crimes) to go away, creating a whole new category of “hate crime” does not have a net positive effect.
    So, basically, you wish people weren’t committing hate crimes, but you don’t actually want them punished for doing so. Thank you for stating your view so clearly.
    But then, I’m an oppressive member of the white male patriarchial elite, and thus nothing I say should be trusted, because I couldn’t possibly be motivated by anything other than preserving my precioussssss privilege.
    Well, yeah. When you explicitly say that your notion of making hate crime “go away” is just to pretend it isn’t happening, I say, you are motivated by wanting to preserve your privileged status which allows you to say anything you like to anyone – because that right is more important to you than the lives of black people, women, or GLBT people.

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