Frazier Glenn Cross is the former grand dragon of a chapter of the KKK who murdered three people in Kansas City last week. While one would think that murdering three people would be sufficient grounds for, at a minimum, putting Cross away for the rest of his life, the true hammer has fallen: he will also face hate crime charges.
There is something rather off-putting about using hate crime laws as a means of punishing Cross. To most rational souls, murder is the worst crime that any human could be guilty of, yet it is as though simply committing murder is not really sufficient. Oh no, old run of the mill murder may be bad, but when the person is motivated by hate, well, then the federal government is really going to come after you with both guns blazing, so to speak.
It’s an unusual mentality for a number of reasons. When one commits an act of murder, that indicates to me that there is already some level of hate involved. Normally people do not shoot other people in fits of love. Thus charging a murder with a hate crime seems rather redundant.
More importantly, there’s this rather strange psycho-analysis implicitly involved here, as though murder itself is not truly the worst possible crime. Are we suggesting that a person who kills another person for that person’s wallet is somehow less evil, less criminal, and deserving of lesser punishment than the guy who shoots another person because said person is another religion, race, or creed? Is the humanity of the individual murdered in a robbery less than the humanity of the person murdered because of the color of their skin, or in this case because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? This situation is even more bizarre because the actual victims were not in fact Jewish. I suppose we should be relieved that mistaken identity does not mitigate the level of charge being leveled against Cross. One shudders to ponder the potential legal labyrinth we would have to travel down were we to insist that the victims actually be in the assigned category being hated. I’m sure Mr. Cross’s attorneys will attempt to argue that since he does not hate the ethnic and religious groups of his actual victims, the hate crime charge is therefore illegitimate. In which case I suppose Mr. Cross could be charged with some lower level crime, like, I don’t know, first degree murder.
There are those who might argue that the more you can throw at a monster like Cross in order to send him away, the better. While I am somewhat sympathetic to this point of view, I’m still left bothered by the subtle message that these laws send. Yes, we do have to make certain judgments about a person’s reasoning for killing another – that is why we distinguish between first and second degree murder. That is also why a person who is defending their own life is not charged with the same level of crime, if any, as the person who kills in cold blood. But cold blooded murder is cold blooded murder, and to assign a greater penalty to one who kills out of racial or religious animus strikes me as a sign of placing some sort of greater value on the life of one murdered in a so-called hate crime. If we deem all life to be sacred, then there should be no worse crime than to kill in cold blood, regardless of motive. These laws do not deter anyone and do little more than to serve as some sort of token outrage against a perceived thought-crime. It’s almost as though the real outrage isn’t that Cross (in this case) killed anyone, but that he was a bigot. That shows some terribly skewed priorities.