Mimesis Law
14 August 2020

Blame The New York Times For Its Hate Crimes Agenda

July 27, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — In a moving op-ed, college student Harpreet Singh Saini writes of the need for more “hate laws” to address racial motivations in crime at the state level.  Saini appreciates the depth of emotion tied into his plea. His mother was killed in a hate crime:

This is not a hypothetical situation. Three years ago next month, a white supremacist walked into the Oak Creek gurdwara, a Sikh temple, and fatally shot my mother, Paramjit Kaur Saini, and five other worshipers.

I was 18 and just about to start college. My mother never got to see me off.

His pain is palpable, even three years later. But the depth of his emotion doesn’t make his reasoning persuasive.

Research by the Southern Poverty Law Center has found that South Carolina alone is home to six neo-Confederate groups, four white nationalist organizations, two factions of the Ku Klux Klan and three neo-Nazi groups. It is only a matter of time before a deranged individual or group influenced by their creed of hate strikes again.

This may well be true, but there is one thing that hate crime laws fail to accomplish, and that’s influencing the conduct of a “deranged individual or group.”

Jeff Gamso, who makes this point in a response to Cristian Farias’ post embracing the notion that federal hate crimes law has a place in the legal ecosystem, addresses this op-ed directly:

Really?  A law against hate crimes will deter, will protect against “a deranged individual or group”?
Sure, because one thing about people who are deranged and act on their mental illness is that they do careful cost-benefit analyses first.  It’s one reason why people don’t commit crimes for bad reasons in the other 46 states.  You know, the states like New York, where in 2013 alone (the most recent year for which data is available), state prosecutors reported 149 hate crime convictions.
Gamso’s point is certainly true, and since this op-ed appeared in the august pages of the Paper of Record, it’s fair game for commentary, and even ridicule.  Sadly, the understandable emotion of a horrific crime doesn’t save the rest of it from challenge.

Yet, it was too hard for me to do.  Saini suffered a horrible loss, and his search for an answer to the unanswerable is completely understandable.  And then, he’s a college student.  I’m sure there is some -ism I’m violating by saying this, but he can’t be held to the level of doctrinal understanding that might be expected of a scholar or lawyer.  That he fails to see the irrationality in his argument may be a sign of intellectual immaturity, and he’s allowed to work his way through college-level thought to a more sound doctrinal perspective.

But the publisher of the op-ed, The New York Times, has no excuse.  How dare the Gray Lady publish an op-ed that so flagrantly panders to emotion?  How dare it take advantage of a young man’s pain to push a hate crimes agenda?

Much as Saini’s op-ed falls far short of a reasonable justification for more laws against hate crimes, as the title — certainly added by the op-ed page editors of the New York Times — suggests, the use of someone insulated from criticism because of the suffering he’s endured to push an idea that is fundamentally flawed at best, and intellectually destructive at worst, is a disgrace.

We are deluged with argumentation predicated upon a sad story, a teary-eyed anecdote, to appeal to our empathy and humanity.  And indeed, these stories may well hit their mark.  But when it comes to crafting laws, criminal law, it’s not enough that there was misery floating free in society to push us to criminalize something else.

And this particular sort of crime, the offense of thinking crazy, mean, hateful thoughts, disconnected from the physical conduct that makes a wrong into a crime, is particularly nefarious. And it’s always particularly susceptible to the logical fallacy of an appeal to emotion.

Much as I share Saini’s pain in the death of his mother at the hand of some deranged murderer, the law of murder is already more than adequate to address the crime committed. You can’t execute a person twice. You can’t put a person in prison for two lifetimes.

And as much as I share Gamso’s view that these emotional appeals for more hate crime legislation are irrational and grossly misguided, I can’t bring myself to smack Saini for the error of his feelings. Feelings can be irrational. Only thought can’t be irrational, and this isn’t an op-ed about thought.

So that leaves the New York Times as the culprit, using the pain of a young man unready to bare his soul on its op-ed pages, except to further an agenda founded in pain and illogic.  It’s disgraceful that they’ve taken advantage of Saini in this way. He’s suffered enough.

Main image via Flickr/Torrenegra

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  • Jake DiMare
    28 July 2015 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    “But the publisher of the op-ed, The New York Times, has no excuse. How dare the Gray Lady publish an op-ed that so flagrantly panders to emotion?”

    Dude, have you read David Brooks lately?