Sunday, September 16, 2012

Is Hating Hate Crimes a Crime?

In 2 weeks and 2 days, the Amish community in Lancaster, PA will commemorate the 6th anniversary of the tragic shooting at an Amish school. One website tells the story of the tragedy on October 2, 2006, as follows.
The shooting took place at the West Nickel Mines Amish School, located about 12 miles southeast of Lancaster City. Nickel Mines is just a crossroads within Bart Township, a local municipality with a population of roughly 3,000 Amish and English (the Amish term for the non-Amish).

The school was a typical
Amish one-room school with a school bell on the roof, two outhouses, a ball field, and an enclosed schoolyard. It was built in 1976. On the blackboard was a sign with a teddy bear. The sign read "Visitors Bubble Up Our Days". Twenty-six children, ages 6-13, from three different local Amish church districts attended this school.

Charlie Roberts was a milk truck driver who serviced the local community, including the farms of some of the victims' families. Nine years earlier his wife Amy gave birth to their first child, a baby girl. However, the baby died after living only 20 minutes. Apparently his daughter's death affected him greatly. He never forgave God for her death, and eventually planned to get revenge.

On the morning of October 2nd Roberts said goodbye to two of his own children at the school bus stop, then drove to the West Nickel Mines Amish School. When he walked in the door, some of the children recognized him. That day the school had four adult visitors - the teacher's mother, her sister, and two sisters-in-law. One of the women was pregnant. When the young teacher saw his guns, she and her mother left the other adults with the children and ran to a nearby house for help. A call was made to 911.

The pregnant visitor was trying to comfort 7-year old Naomi Rose when Roberts ordered the adults to leave. Then he told the boys to leave. The boys huddled near an outhouse to pray. Roberts had the 10 girls lie down facing the blackboard and he tied their hands and feet. Roberts told the girls he was sorry for what he was about to do, but "I'm angry at God and I need to punish some Christian girls to get even with him."

When the state police arrived, Roberts ordered them to leave the property or he would shoot. He told the girls, "I'm going to make you pay for my daughter." One of the girls, 13-year old Marian, said, "Shoot me first." Roberts began shooting each of the girls before finally shooting himself. When the police broke in to the school, two of the girls, including Marian, were dead. Naomi Rose died in the arms of a state trooper.

Emergency personnel arrived quickly, and helicopters flew the wounded to hospitals in Lancaster, Hershey, Reading, and Delaware. Two sisters died later that night in two different area hospitals. Amish parents tried to console themselves by saying the five girls who had died were "safe in the arms of Jesus."
 The website contains more information about the aftermath of the murders. The way the Amish community itself reacted was inspirational. The same website explains that the Amish believe in "Biblical forgiveness," and they lived it in the days that followed the shootings. From the same website we read:
Following the tragic Amish school shooting of 10 young schoolgirls in a one-room Amish school in October 2006, reporters from throughout the world invaded Lancaster County, PA to cover the story. However, in the hours and days following the shooting a different, an unexpected story developed.

In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn't cast blame, they didn't point fingers, they didn't hold a press conference with attorneys at their sides. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer's family.

The afternoon of the shooting an Amish grandfather of one of the girls who was killed expressed forgiveness toward the killer, Charles Roberts. That same day Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain.

Later that week the Roberts family was invited to the funeral of one of the Amish girls who had been killed. And Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at Charles Roberts' funeral.

It's ironic that the killer was tormented for nine years by the pre-mature death of his young daughter. He never forgave God for her death. Yet, after he cold-bloodedly shot 10 innocent Amish school girls, the Amish almost immediately forgave him and showed compassion toward his family.

In a world at war and in a society that often points fingers and blames others, this reaction was unheard of. Many reporters and interested followers of the story asked, "How could they forgive such a terrible, unprovoked act of violence against innocent lives?"

The Amish culture closely follows the teachings of Jesus, who taught his followers to forgive one another, to place the needs of others before themselves, and to rest in the knowledge that God is still in control and can bring good out of any situation. Love and compassion toward others is to be life's theme. Vengeance and revenge is to be left to God.
This past week, another Amish community was in the news. It involved what at first seemed like an almost comical event when the media reported it. Members of one group of Amish cut the beards of members of another group of Amish. It was almost made out to be like a Samson and Delilah story. But what is sad in a sense is that the situation had to go to court and that the communities had to be cast into the limelight as they sought to settle their internal grievances.

Last year, the story hit national media. Here is how the story was first described by a British newspaper on October 7, 2011:
Men and women from a group of families disavowed by mainstream Amish have attacked at least six men and women from the community, cutting off the men's beards and the womens' hair in attacks that were meant to be degrading, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said. The attacks occurred over the past three weeks in the heart of Ohio's Amish population, one of the largest in the United States.
A few days later, the same newspaper wrote more:
Sam Mullet said he didn't order the hair-cutting but didn't stop two of his sons and another man from carrying it out last week on a 74-year-old man in his home in rural eastern Ohio. Amish men typically grow beards as adults and stop trimming them when they marry, and the beards are held in high esteem.

Fast forward nearly a year and the fate of the hair-cutting Amishmen is in the hands of a jury. The case has been argued, and the defendants await the jury's decision on whether or not the shavings constituted "hate crimes" under Ohio law.
Sitting on the back of a horse-drawn hay-cart on his dairy farm in the rolling rural heartland of Amish country, Andy Hershberger gripped his foot-long beard as replayed the struggle with assailants wielding hair-clippers.  
"They were holding me down and had already got a chunk of the hair from my head," he explained. "They had my beard in their hands like this and they were ready to shear it when the clippers broke."  
For his 77-year-old father Raymond, a bishop in the fundamentalist Protestant sect, there was no such good fortune. The attackers cut off his long white beard and much of the hair from his head before they fled into the night.
In what prosecutors claim was a vindictive rampage of spiritual grudge-settling, the Hershbergers were two of nine Amish victims shorn in such attacks in central Ohio.
After a three-week trial in Cleveland, a jury is now deliberating whether this was indeed a religious hate crime or, as the defence contends, the equivalent of a family feud.
I have long struggled with the concept of "hate crimes." When someone injures or kills another person, it is quite likely that hate is involved It makes no sense to me that the perpetrator committed the crime with a particular type of hatred makes it punishable by a harsher sentence. If I hate a woman for stealing my husband, and I kill her out of hatred, why is that subject to less punishment than if someone kills another because he hates the person's skin color or sexual orientation or religion?

Although motive is often important in understanding why something happened, it is generally not an element of the crime. It does not have to be proven. Sure, it may be part of the case with regard to determining which degree of murder a person is charged with. However, when you introduce "hate" into the equation, motive does become an element that must be proven. It makes the prosecutor's job harder when you add another element to the burden of proof. And worse, it is a subjective matter that in some instances is undetectable or unprovable.

So if the perpetrator can hide the fact that hate was his motive, even if he gets linked to the crime by the physical evidence, he can avoid being charged with a hate crime with an enhanced penalty. Or vice versa - if a white man intentionally injures a black man, the very fact that they have different skin color may prompt a charge of "hate-crime" even if that could not be farther from the truth. That's what happened in Florida earlier this year when George Zimmerman was charged with a hate-crime in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Much has been written about "hate crimes" and whether legislation against them serves any real purpose. As far back as 2000 there was a case being made against such thought-punishing legislation. This article in the American Spectator from April of this year talks about the Trayvon Martin case and the tough road that prosecutors will have proving the "hate" prong of the charge. An article from 3 years ago points out that hate crime legislation is ineffectual, particularly in that it sends a message to victims of crimes (or their families): that the person who injured or killed them for some reason not recognized as a result of prejudice will not be punished as much as they would if they hated the victim for their gender or race or sexual orientation, etc.

So consider for example the life of a woman whose murder is planned by her husband for months, and which husband brutally beats and murders her, stages a home invasion, and then collects on the insurance money. Under hate crime laws, her murder does not warrant the same punishment for her husband as this case. A gay man flirts with a straight man, which straight man is enraged, walks a block, then returns and hits the gay man with a rock and kills him, all because the straight man is homophobic. That murder will get an enhanced penalty because it involves hate of a gay man. Murdered wife who LOVED her murderer does not get that same vindication.

Obviously, I have convinced myself that am not a fan of hate crime designations. But if the Chick-Fil-A haters or the rich-hating Occupiers ever came to trial for their hatred being a crime, I might change my mind. Or maybe I should be like the Pennsylvania Amish and try to understand the haters. But then, I don't believe in striving for the impossible.

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