Our Cleveland newspaper’s website just published an opinion piece of mine about classifying some violent crimes against women as hate crimes. As you may know, Cleveland has recently been too much in the news regarding abuse of women. A couple of years ago, it was Anthony Sowell and his house of horrors on Imperial Avenue, which I cross every week on my way to GED tutoring. Then, recently, three women escaped ten years’ captivity under the control of Ariel Castro. Most recently, an Anthony Sowell copycat, Michael Madison, was arrested for killing three women in his neighborhood.
Weirdly, some people seem to believe that such men just happen to kill women. They’re crazy killers who pick the easiest target. If that were so, wouldn’t they kill even easier targets, like children or even babies? Others believe that such men are sexual deviants and get turned on by abusing women. That may well be true, but their expressed purpose–the motivation they actually verbalize, over and over again–is hatred. They hate women. That’s why they kill them.
I had limited space in the paper to make my case. With a few hundred more words, I would have pointed out that the “hate crime” label does not apply to every crime against women, just as every crime against any minority group doesn’t constitute a hate crime. A criminal can murder a Jew without anti-Semitism. It may happen in the course of a robbery. Or a neighbor might be pissed off about a barking dog and shoot the owner, who happens to be Jewish. These are terrible crimes, but they’re not hate crimes.
Similarly, a husband can kill his wife in order to collect the insurance and run off with his girlfriend. A male robber can kill the female clerk at the convenience store. These crimes are not hate crimes.
The special category stigmatizes particular crimes regarding their motivation. This stigma sometimes makes the penalties harsher than they would otherwise be. I’m not especially interested in making the penalties harsher. The value of the “hate crime” designation, for me, is its educational value. It makes us aware that racist vandals are still destroying temples and Jewish cemeteries and burning down black churches. It highlights the beating of a gay man on a dark city street. It makes these crimes not random or generic events, but targeted abusive outrages that we, as a society, need to recognize, keep a tally of, and work hard at eradicating. We need to express horror, special horror, when entire groups become targets of violent crime.
In 1938, the rioters who broke windows and raped and killed Jews on Kristallnacht in Germany weren’t drunk college kids on a spree. They were harbingers of horrors to come. It was important to recognize their motivation. They were harassing Jews because they hated Jews.
Similarly, certain men (blessedly few in number), because of faulty genes or an abusive childhood, develop a seething hatred of women that compels them to abuse and murder them. To me, a murder that involves kidnapping, rape and torture, strangling, calculated terrorizing and pain, is in a special category. It is worse than other killings. It is a crime of hate, and our society should recognize this.
Maybe then we can grapple with it. Now, instead, people watch a video of an unconscious young woman in Steubenville (Ohio, again!) being abused and ridiculed by young men for entertainment. They see young men calling this young woman a bitch and a whore and worse. Maybe if we, through our laws, expressed moral outrage at such behavior, we could begin to address what makes our young men–in high schools, on sports teams, in the military–despise and disparage women.
What we’re doing now is not working.
Share your ideas here, or, even better, at the original piece on Cleveland.com. Thanks.