Tuesday, October 28, 2008

But If It Were Obama It Would Be a Hate Crime

The LA Times is reporting on an effigy of Vice Presidential Candidate and sitting governor Sarah Palin hanging by a noose in West Hollywood.
But Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said the mannequin sporting a beehive hairdo, glasses and a red coat does not rise to the level of a hate crime because it was part of a Halloween display...

Sgt. Kristin Aloma of the Sheriff's Department's West Hollywood station said that since Sunday she had received five to 10 calls from residents offended by the display. Officials are monitoring the house to make sure the situation doesn't get out of hand, she said.

West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang said although he recognizes residents' right to free speech, he found the display problematic and felt it should be removed.

"While these residents have the legal right to display Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin in effigy, I strongly oppose political speech that references violence -- real or perceived," Prang said in a statement. "I urge these residents to take down their display and find more constructive ways to express their opinion."

Whitmore said that potential hate crimes are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If the same display had been made of a Barack Obama-like doll, for example, authorities would have to evaluate it independently, Whitmore said.

"That adds a whole other social, historical hate aspect to the display, and that is embedded in the consciousness of the country," he said, adding he's not sure whether it would be a hate crime. "It would be ill-advised of anybody to speculate on that."
See, and therein lies the difficulty of hate crime statutes. If Barack Obama, a black man, was hanged in effigy instead of Sarah Palin, we would not be talking about a free speech issue, we would be talking about a hate crime. Just because Obama is black, he is, by definition, a member of a group protected by hate crime legislation.

It seems to me that hanging anyone in effigy is evidence of a "hateful" intent, regardless of one's race or the effigy victim's race. When people all over the world protest against America, they routinely have Uncle Sam or the President burned in effigy. It sends a very power, very pointed message--i.e. death to America. Doesn't the same thing apply here, regardless of party or candidate? (BTW, you can be the Secret Service has looked into this or will be doing so to determine if there is a threat).

Admittedly, hanging Palin in effigy is in bad taste, whether part of a Halloween display or not. I don't think it is smart, but it is speech and as political speech probably protected. But because Palin is white, she is not defined as a class of people against whom a "hate crime" can be targeted. That is a level of protection that Obama has which generates a difficult position for opponents of Obama.

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