COMMENTARY | I concur with columnist LZ Granderson, writing for CNN, in his anger over the vicious beating of a white tourist by black bystanders in Baltimore. I disagree with Baltimore police commissioner Frederick Bealefeld, quoted in the Baltimore Sun, in his assessment that the brutal attack was not a hate crime and merely a crime of "drunken opportunistic criminality."
While the attack on the 31-year-old white man, in which he was stripped of his shirt, expensive watch and had other items stolen from him as people in the crowd laughed, undoubtedly had an element of opportunism due to his drunk and disoriented state. It is likely the severity of the assault and the lack of bystander assistance was due to the man's race.
Simply because the man was not actively pursued or specifically targeted does not mean the robbery and beating did not have elements of a hate crime. Which raises difficult questions about hate crimes: Must discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion be the primary instigator of the crime or does it only need to be a substantial instigator? I think the latter is the case.
Bealefeld's appeal against "fear-mongering," one of the most overused terms in American jargon, is inappropriate. Proponents of charging the tourist's assailants with a hate crime are not in favor out of fear. They want equality. If a group of white assailants had beaten and robbed a drunken 31-year-old black tourist, the media would be demanding hate crime charges en masse.
When authorities appear to pick and choose which groups get charged with punishment-amplifying hate crimes, the public will quickly lose faith in hate crime legislation, seeing it as an unfair tool used for media hype and to play racial politics in diverse jurisdictions.
To fight against hate and discrimination one must be vigilant in combating it in all its forms, not just the forms that are considered most newsworthy by media outlets or most appealing to the public. Bealefeld has shaken public faith in hate crime legislation, with many people, particularly whites, becoming increasingly likely to see such legislation as biased.