Which should the law treat more severely: Killing a guy because he cut you off in traffic or killing a guy because you don’t like his race?
Elsewhere on the web (link omitted because the source is the invitation-only blog of a personal friend), I read the following:
In the former case, you’re a danger to the person who wronged you. In the latter, you’re a danger to tens of millions of people, and that’s just in the US.
Hate crimes are different because the perp’s target list is vastly larger, with the built-in implication of recidivism.
There’s so much wrong with this I’m not sure where to begin. First of all, when a guy kills another guy for cutting him off in traffic, I’m inclined to think the likelihood of recidivism is pretty high. It’s not like nobody’s ever going to piss him off again. Second of all, I’d think that severity of punishment should be tied primarily to its effectiveness as a deterrent to others, not as a deterrent to recidivism. We can deal with recidivism partly by keeping an eye on past offenders, but when it comes to deterring unknown others, punishment is all we’ve got.
But I mention those issues only in passing on my way to what I think is the really interesting question, namely: Which is more harmful? Targeting a specific individual for death or targeting a randomly chosen representative of some race?
And while we’re at it: Which is more harmful? Targeting someone for being black, or for being white?