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Jewish World Review July 13, 1999 /29 Tamuz, 5759

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Does motivation matter in murder? -- WHAT IS IT THAT MOTIVATES someone to kill another person, especially a stranger? And should one motive be punished more severely than any other?

Yes, if the motive happens to be hatred based on race, religion or sexual preference, according to a group of civil-rights activists who met Monday with President Clinton to discuss strategies for pushing new federal hate-crimes legislation.

Although earlier versions of proposed federal hate-crimes laws have faltered in the past, the recent murderous rampage through Illinois and Indiana by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith -- who killed two people and injured nine others before apparently taking his own life -- and the arrest of Benjamin Matthew Williams and James Tyler Williams, two brothers accused of killing a homosexual couple in Northern California, may have added new impetus for such legislation.

Smith and the Williams brothers have been linked to the World Church of the Creator -- no traditional religious denomination but a virulently racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian hate group that has been implicated in several attacks on members of racial and religious minority groups around the country.

It would be great if passing a new law would reduce the number of murders such as these -- or even make it more likely that those who assault or kill be prosecuted successfully. But there is no evidence that federal hate-crimes legislation would achieve either of these goals. As it is, hate crimes appear to be -- thankfully -- a small fraction of the homicides and assaults committed every year in the United States.

According to the FBI -- which monitors crimes based on racial, ethnic or religious bias, as well as crimes against homosexuals, bisexuals and disabled persons -- fewer than 10,000 bias offenses were committed nationally in 1997 (the last year for which statistics are available). Of these, only eight involved murder and 1,237 involved aggravated assault. Two whites and three blacks were murdered because of their race in 1997, and three male homosexuals were murdered because of their sexual orientation, according to the FBI -- but these figures represent only about 0.04 percent of all murders and non-negligent manslaughters nationally.

Of course, proponents of hate-crime legislation argue that these statistics are the tip of the iceberg. Who knows, they may be right. It is possible that many more murders and assaults may be motivated by racial or ethnic hatred than we know. Who is to say that suspected serial murderer Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, wanted in connection with as many as eight murders nationwide, may not be targeting his alleged victims because of their race -- all were white. Or what about recently convicted serial murderer Charles Ng, a Chinese immigrant and former U.S. marine who sexually tortured and killed six men, three women and two baby boys in California in the 1980s?

It is impossible to know what goes on in the twisted and vicious minds of killers like Charles Ng, or Benjamin Nathaniel Smith for that matter. And in the final analysis, what should it matter what motivated these murderers? Charles Ng will die by lethal injection because of his crimes; Smith apparently chose to take his own life when the police chased him down and were about to arrest him. Similarly, John William King sits on death row in Texas for the horrifying killing of James Byrd, a disabled black man who was dragged to death by King. Two other men await trial in the same murder.

The promoters of hate-crime legislation seem to believe that we still live in a country where racists and anti-Semites go free if they commit crimes against racial or religious minorities. Sadly, that was once true in the United States, but no longer. In the not-too-distant past, civil-rights advocates sought to prosecute racist killers for violations of federal civil-rights laws because all-white juries wouldn't convicted them of murder if the victims were black. Such is not the case today.

Rather than focusing on redefining crime based on motive, the proponents of new hate-crime legislation should focus their efforts to strict enforcement of existing laws and tough penalties for those who are convicted.


07/08/99: Is INS taking its cues from Seinfeld?
07/01/99: How to put doctors and patients back in control of medical-care decisions
06/24/99: Thou shall go postal
06/15/99: Unraveling of social order not limted to U.S.
06/09/99: Stand by your ma'am?
06/04/99: An answered prayer
05/25/99: When higher-education is taken prisoner
05/18/99: Are Jefferson's kin snobs and racists?
05/12/99: First-hand encounter with Chinese paranoia
05/06/99: Singer of Death
04/27/99: Beyond 'Why?'
04/23/99: Pick your ('protected-class' poison)
04/14/99: Why we’re a nation of procrastinators
04/06/99: How to spend Equal Pay Day
03/30/99: Are euthanasia advocates truly compassionate or do they merely fear being burdens themselves?
03/27/99: Time for the ‘Real Thing’?
03/16/99: How to keep anti-immigrant sentiments low
03/11/99: Why Bush is the GOP front-runner
03/03/99: If only these were normal times
02/24/99: Unsettling news about ‘feminism’ --- for the NOW gang
02/18/99: 50 years and trillions of dollars up in smoke --- literally?
02/11/99: Why Dems have the most to fear
02/02/99: Look who supports a people-of-color tax
01/26/99: When sports are truly a diversion
01/20/99: Ken Starr as Mark Fuhrman?
01/12/99: Leave Monica out of it
01/05/99: Forget Danny Williams, what about Bubba’s trade and campaign abuses!?
12/29/98: Ya never know
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12/08/98: Why the House must make sure Bubba gets his due punishment
12/02/98: Remember when libraries were for expanding the mind!?
11/26/98: When Thanksgiving means more than commercialism
11/17/98: To Ken S. --- if you'll only listen
11/10/98: What did you expect?
11/04/98: Shame on those who don't vote!
10/27/98: It's spreading!
10/20/98: It ain't over yet
10/15/98: Mourning motherhood
9/23/98: Sosa and the race card
9/23/98: Believable and truthful are two different things
9/16/98: Time for a new Amendment!
9/08/98: When silence is truly golden
8/25/98: Bears and blunders
8/25/98: Only consistency about Prez's anti-terrorism policy: its inconsistency
8/18/98: Is our 'broken-compass' beyond fixing?
8/11/98: Reno's risk
8/04/98: When Truth is of the highest odor
7/28/98: No way to protect ourselvesagainst a nut's wrath
7/22/98: These 'choice' advocates are being demonzied ... by the Left.
7/15/98: Will 'neonaticide' become the new buzzword?
7/07/98: Urge to mega-merge, stopped in time
6/30/98: Why take responsibility if
somebody else will pay?
6/23/98: Blinded by the red, or is it the green?
6/17/98: Flotsam in the wake of romance
6/10/98: We have a ways to go in the bilingual war
6/3/98: Tyson's triumph over tragedy
5/28/98: Why Univision's Perenchio is out to hurt his fellow Hispanics
5/20/98: Sometimes Buba actually tells the truth ... as he sees it
5/12/98: Chill-out on the chihuahua and ... Seinfeld
5/8/98: The revolution is just about over
4/28/98: Let's face it: both parties are full of hypocrites
4/21/98: Legislating equality
4/14/98: One down, many to go
4/7/98: Mexican mayhem?
3/31/98: Of death and details
3/25/98: Americans are unaware of NATO expansion
3/18/98: Intellectual-ghettoes in the name of diversity
3/11/98: Be careful what you wish for ...
3/4/98: The Press' Learning-disability
2/25/98: 50 States Are Enough!
2/18/98: Casey at the Mat
2/11/98: The legal profession's Final Solution
2/4/98: Faith and the movies
1/28/98: Clinton, Lewinsky, and Politics Vs. Principle
1/21/98: Movement on the Abortion Front
1/14/98: Clones, Courts, and Contradictions
1/7/98: Child custody or child endangerment?
12/31/97: Jerry Seinfeld, All-American
12/24/97: Affirmative alternatives: New initiatives for equal opportunity are out there
12/17/97: Opening a window of opportunity (a way out of bilingual education for California's Hispanic kids)

©1999, Creators Syndicate