To begin, I'll reiterate my concerns with hate-crimes legislation.
1. Our Constitution's First Amendment protects thought no matter how stupid or vile, partly on the thinking that the Marketplace of Ideas will, if not immediately, do a reasonably good job at the public damnation and then the discarding of brainless, vicious ones. Outlawing the expression of incredibly dumb and hurtful thoughts (such as Jews are deserving of punishment or Gays should be quarantined) not only violates the First Amendment but hasn't been shown to reduce violent acts toward minority citizens.
2. Adding five or so years, say, to an assault/battery sentence because racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, or homophobia may well be in the mix has not only not been shown to lessen crimes against minorities, but the same legislature that today considers me a minority worthy of special legal protection because I am a Jew and disabled could, given the vagaries of politics, move to protect right wing hate-groups.
My home state, Pennsylvania, has, since 2010, as right wing a governor and legistature as it has seen and its hateful spate of anti-woman- and war-on-the-poor legislation is just getting revved up. Think hate-crimes laws couldn't be perverted to protect groups other than the ones that spring immediately to your mind?
How about in traditionally rather progressive Wisconsin? Or Michigan? Their legislatures have, seemingly overnight, become home to every manner of harebrained rightist zealot. Think they wouldn't want laws to make those tosspot-drunk-on-Tea bigots a protected-class? Think again.
3. Good criminal law punishes Bad Acts not Bad Thoughts and it should punish bad actors very hard no matter the victim, hard enough and consistently so that no minority person should feel the need for hate-crimes laws.
All that said, I, like you, detest the fact that ours is still, still, a nation where minorities are targeted. We work, many of us, you and I, almost ceaselessly and in our own ways toward greater decency and justice. In my work as a straight-ally in the fight for throughgoing LGBT Equality, I've run recently into some daunting numbers. The stats, were I not the civil liberties and First Amendment advocate that I am (and were there strong, consistent evidence that hate-crimes laws really do mitigate against these bad acts...that might sway my heart as to hate-crimes legislation). It could, I suppose, but it hasn't yet.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Project last year recorded the highest number of hate-based murders of LGBT people ever here in the United States even as overall violence against LGBT citizens dipped some.
Here are some findings for 2011:
White, gay, non-transgender men were the largest group attacked in what laws in many states consider hate-based violence.
Hate-motivated murders of LGBT people increased to 30 (in 2011) from 27 (in 2010).
87% of all murder victims in 2011 were people of color; LGBT people of color were just under 50% of total victims.
Only 52% of survivors of anti-LGBT violence reported to authorities their having been attacked.
Just under 20% of attacked LGBT citizens who reported to athorities also reported police as acting in a hostile manner toward them.
Almost 80% of those attacked did not know their attackers.
Just under 10% of reported attackers were police officers.
20% of attacks on LGBT citizens occurred in private homes or apartments.
We live at an odd time: as surveyed attitudes as to rights in the abstract seem hopeful, we have as yet to deal with these hard, raw facts. Our culture can choose to be better than it is, better than we are. I deeply believe we can do better without diminishing the First Amendment, without criminalizing thought. All violent criminals, as I say, can and ought to be hit, and very, very hard.
We should get tougher judges, and prosecutors (if that's an issue) before we resort to weakening the Constitution
For more numbers and information, including groups that help LGBT crime victims throughout the nation, click the link.