Hate Crime: A crime motivated by racial, religious, gender, sexual orientation, or other prejudice.
If two white guys get in an argument, and the argument turns violent, and one kills the other, that is a crime. Likewise, for two black guys. But if a black guy and a white guy get into it, and one of them is killed, then the crime may qualify as a hate crime, and justify more severe punishment, according to current laws.
Hate crimes are based on the defendant’s prejudicial belief about some status of the victim. States vary somewhat in their definition and punishment for hate crimes, but the general idea is that the reason an individual commits a crime is relevant in the judicial process. Clearly, this is true in the case of self-defense, but hate crimes are not committed for that reason.
There are two problems with this: First, how does anyone know what was in a person’s mind when they committed the crime, regardless of what they said at the time or admitted to later? Hateful, bigoted speech is deplorable, but not illegal unless it qualifies as “hate speech.” (That’s another whole can of worms that I will leave for another day.) Why are the thoughts in an individual’s head when he/she commits a crime relevant at all? A crime is a crime is a crime.
If a person kills someone with a gun, whether it was committed with cold premeditation, or in the heat of passion, whether it was motivated by racism or religious or ethnic bigotry, or whether it was an argument between two people that turned violent, it’s a crime. There is no logical reason why the punishment should be different in any of those cases.
The only mitigating factors that should affect the sentencing are “aggravation” and “self-defense.” (Self-defense can be extended to include protection of others.) There is a blurry line between the two. When do insults and bullying become physically threatening to the point that they justify blowing the aggressor away? That is a matter for the judge and jury to decide.
At the heart of the issue is the concept of justice. The many statues of Lady Justice almost always depict her with a set of scales and a sword, wearing a blindfold. The scales weigh the facts of the case. The sword represents enforcement. The blindfold suggests impartiality. The scales should not be tipped by wealth, power or status. How about the thoughts in the mind of the criminal? Why should they tip the scales?