Tuesday, February 14, 2012, by Mark Anthony Sammut
A recent assault on two lesbian teenagers has sparked quite an emotional appeal for a review of hate crime legislation to also cover acts motivated by gender or sexual orientation. I have also read with interest Claire Bonello’s contribution to the matter in an article entitled All Crimes Are Hate Crimes on Sunday and I would like to add my views on the topic.
I am sure of the good intentions of all the NGOs supporting this call and participating in the protest last week, but I believe that our society is consistently missing the wood for the trees, continuously reacting with calls for law changes whenever something happens which sparks public opinion.
While I deplore this incident and express my solidarity with the victims, I think that, unfortunately, our politicians seem consistently prone to enacting patched-up laws in reaction to the current trendy public outcry, without having a long-term vision of what type of society we are creating.
For me, the Prime Minister’s and the Opposition’s reaction that, yes, we do need to patch up hate crime legislation, is a perfect example of this.
Reports of gangs and thugs randomly beating up people have been consistently reported for these past months. Targets included couples, the lone teenager, foreign students, parked cars. Two incidents last year immediately come to mind: the attack on a German student and the attack on a Maltese couple, where in both cases the victims were innocently beaten up by gangs.
An article by Noel Tonna last Friday also described an attack his son suffered in a playground in Sliema. Other cases have been reported by this newspaper, and still we saw no tightening up of enforcement and stricter penalties for violent behaviour.
What is the logic, then, of increasing the gravity of the crime only if the victim happens to be a homosexual person, a black person, a non-Christian, or associated with any other minority group? When it happened to be a black victim, we introduced racial hate crime. Now that it is a lesbian couple, we are calling for sexual orientation hate crime. As a reaction to last year’s other attacks, why aren’t we calling for “student hate crimes”, “Germanic hate crimes”, and “relationship status hate crimes”? Can we just introduce stricter penalties, of jail-time and no suspended sentences, for anyone who acts violently and without any provocation against anyone else? If not, someone has to kindly explain to me what makes it less dangerous for us members of this same society if the victims of such random beatings are to be part of the “majority” instead of part of the “minority groups”?
The only basis for such a differentiation between violence on a “minority” member and violence on a “majority” member seems to be the motivation. But how exactly can anyone determine what crossed the perpetrators’ minds before they beat the victim up? Is big-government going to start the thought-crime regime we read about in 1984 and watched in Tom Cruise’s Minority Report?
The only logical conclusion from this type of review is that for our “equal” society, it is more acceptable for gangs and thugs to beat up a white, straight, Christian guy, than if they do the same thing to a black, lesbian, infidel woman. I am sorry but I beg to differ. For me, both are human and both are equal victims of an act of unprovoked violence. And I am sure that, if thugs call me “pufta” while beating me up, while it still wouldn’t qualify as a homophobia-motivated crime (or would it?), I wouldn’t really care if the beating was a result of their misjudgement of my tastes of whom to sleep with. I would still want to see them locked up in jail.
So my answer is, no dear Prime Minister and Justice Minister. It’s not hate crime legislation which must be strengthened. It’s law enforcement and the penalties for all acts of violence which must be strengthened. On the other hand, all minority-segregating hate crime clauses should be completely removed from our laws. They are discriminatory and make us non-members of any religious, racial, or sexual minority groups feel less safe since we become less risky targets.
Hate crime legislation is messing up the whole concept of equality before the law. It is akin to removing the blindfold from Lady Justice’s eyes so that she can first check who the victim is before contemplating the offender’s penalty. And that is always wrong. Very wrong.
Mr Sammut is a Nationalist member of the Gudja local council.
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