Sun-Times: Hate crimes in a class of their own

sun timesIn a recent column, Richard Roeper argued that pulling a Muslim woman’s headscarf may be mean, but it’s not a hate crime.

Fortunately, the law doesn’t criminalize being “mean” (how on Earth would that be defined anyway?)

What the law does do, however, is define a battery. Battery is intentional, unpermitted contact causing harm or offense by one person against another. That’s what Valerie Kenney did when she tried to pull off a Muslim woman’s headscarf at a Jewel in Tinley Park. Moreover, when a person commits such an offense because of hatred towards the victim because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, etc., it becomes a hate crime. In other words, battery is one thing, battery based on bigotry is another.

Hate crimes are their own class of crime for a very good reason: The enhanced classification and punishment deters people from criminally acting out on their bigotry. It is the government’s obligation to its citizens to take a no-tolerance position on such crimes.

As for Kenney, I am confident that the justice system will determine the appropriate punishment for her. Though three years in jail and up to $25,000 is the maximum sentence, it’s not the only sentence option available. Our justice system entrusts judges and juries to make the fairest determination in light of the facts.

Ahmed M. Rehab,

executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations