During the summer of 2001, a guy stopped by my house collecting signatures and donations for a group who were trying to get laws enacted in Minnesota treating hate-crimes against homosexuals more harshly than the same crimes committed against other groups. There were two things that bothered me about this. The first thing that bothered me was that they wouldn't take a signature for their petition without a donation. The second took me longer to figure out, and it was that I don't think hate-crimes legislation is a good idea.
Thinking about it more, I realized that hate-crimes legislation doesn't aim to punish the actual crime, but rather the motive (or thoughts) behind it. That's smacks of being more than a little Orwellian to me, besides being something that's very difficult to prove. If someone is continually spouting hateful speech, there's a pretty good chance you can figure out that their motive for a crime might be related to that hate. But what about someone who doesn't give any indication as to why they commit a crime?
Or what if you have a random crime that happens to be committed against a protected individual? Do you prosecute that as a hate-crime, just because it might be? One group of people is now getting special treatment under the law. That sounds lot like discrimination to me, which isn't how this country is supposed to work. Whatever happened to equal protection under the law?
Further, because most hate-crime legislation puts added effort into prosecuting crimes against certain individuals or groups, what about the same crimes committed against someone who doesn't fit into one of those groups? Will the crime be prosecuted to the same extent? If not, you're making things worse for the majority, who are likely to feel underprotected. If the problem is that too many people (of any group) are being mugged, or assaulted, or their belongings vandalized, you should put more effort into prosecuting muggings, assaults, or vandalism. Not to protect any one group, but to protect all citizens.
Yes, it's horrible when someone is targeted for a crime because they have a different sexual orientation, are a different color, or practice a different religion. But is it worse than when someone is targeted for a crime because they're small, or weak, or old? Or if there's no obvious reason why the person was targeted at all? The problem is the crime itself, and there are already laws in place making crime illegal. That's what makes it a crime in the first place. The existing laws should be enforced in all cases, regardless of the target of the crime. And if the laws aren't enforced equally, that's discrimination, which is already a crime in this country. With millions of pages of law already on the books, we don't need new laws that will just make things less fair.