The complexity and inconsistency involved in prosecuting violent hate crimes once again manifested itself this past weekend when three lesbians viciously assaulted a gay man in a Boston Subway Station.  

Because the victim testified that the women had “called him insulting homophobic slurs,” the women were immediately charged with a hate crime.

In response, the defense attorney, along with the mother of two of the perpetrators, argued that since all three women are openly lesbian, they could not possibly be homophobic.  Hence, their actions, which included repeatedly punching and kicking the victim in a stairwell, were not hateful.  

The perpetrators’ motives will ultimately determine the severity of their punishment, but their motives do not lessen the severity of the crime. Regardless of whether the perpetrators were motivated by homophobia, racism, sexism, misdirected anger, or boredom – their actions, which left the victim with a broken nose, were clear examples of assault and battery and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  

Such incidents should cause supporters of hate crime legislation to pause and consider whether these laws really do a better job of protecting victims of violence. The sexual orientation or sentiments of the batterers do not make the victim’s injuries any less significant.  Furthermore, if the victim had been an elderly woman and not a gay man, the crime would have been no less heinous or hateful. 

Most everyone would agree that a law that treats celebrities or the rich more favorably than the anonymous or the poor is fundamentally unjust, yet hate crime laws are based on this same notion that distinctions should be made based on the categorical status of victims.  That devalues those who aren’t part of the protected class.    

Violent crimes are always motivated, at least in part, by contempt for the victim.  More importantly though, such crimes violate the victim’s rights to life, liberty and property.  The purpose of government is to protect all victims, including homosexuals, women, racial minorities–and even white guys–in the sanctity of these rights.  

Therefore, rather than wasting time and resources psychoanalyzing the perpetrators’ motives or making moral distinctions among victims, the justice system should seek to swiftly, firmly, and consistently prosecute violent actions committed against all human beings.  

All victims are better served when the criminal law focuses on deterring violent actions generally, rather than on criminalizing thoughts or words directed against certain categories of people.