This new video has emerged showing the brutal attack on a tourist in Baltimore on St. Patrick’s Day. The video also clearly shows a man who stands above the victim to take his picture as he and others laugh at his being beaten, stripped, and robbed on the street. In the meantime, the Baltimore Police Chief Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III is being criticized for dismissing the possibility of a hate crime — insisting that this is nothing like the Trayvon Martin case.
Various commentators have asked why the attack by the black mob on the one white person shown on the street was not treated as a possible race crime. Bealefeld, however, insisted that the video shows that this is just a “drunken opportunistic criminality” by people on the street. Notably, he said that he did not want to hear people raising race and suggesting that this is another Trayvon Martin case with “race-baiting” and “fear-mongering.”
While I am not sure that race was a factor based on this evidence, I am unsure how the Police Chief can rule it out on this evidence. You have a single white individual shown on the street who is singled out for this attack. He was not simply beaten and robbed but demeaned. The stripping of this clothes and taunting of the victim was an act of hate not opportunistic crime. Without speaking with a single witness or perpetrator, it is unclear why this is being immediately dismissed as a random act of violence where in the Martin case the Justice Department Civil Rights Division intervened within days into the Florida case as a presumptive hate crime.
Part of the problem rests with the vague definition of a hate crime. Race is often a factor in crime. There are some areas of cities like Baltimore where a white person is unwise to go into out of fear of an attack. As mentioned once on this blog how my sister was once told by an African American police officer that she should leave a Chicago neighborhood immediately because she is white. The officer was doing this out of genuine concern for her. Conversely, black people have been followed and attacked in white neighborhoods, as alleged in the Martin case. Police know that, if they are honest about the role of race in crimes, there would be an explosion of cases defined as hate crimes.
Here is the Maryland law:
Because of another’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or national origin, a person may not:
(1) (i) commit a crime against that person;
(ii) damage the real or personal property of that person;
(iii) deface, damage, or destroy, attempt to deface, damage, or destroy the real or personal property of that person; or
(iv) burn or attempt to burn an object on the real or personal property of that person.
(2) commit a violation of item (1) of this section that:
(i) except as provided in item (ii) of this item, involves a separate crime that is a felony; or
(ii) results in the death of the victim.
The question is whether a crime occurred “because” of the person’s race. Many crimes are triggered by a person being singled out due to their race in a hostile neighborhood. Thus, many crimes begin with a confrontation with racial elements or identifications. Part of the controversy over hate crime prosecutions is the lack of a clear standard which crimes can be denoted as hate crimes. Some Maryland organizations insists that a crime is a hate crime when the “victim perceives it to be a hate crime.” That is a pretty low standard and dangerously subjective. One site advises readers that the victim’s perception is enough for a hate crime:
What is a Hate Crime?
A hate crime is a criminal act directed at an individual or group because of membership in a particular racial, religious, ethic or gender group. Vandalism to a house of worship, assault on an individual, or a bombing of a building – each may be a hate crime – if it meets any of the following criteria:
When racial, religious or ethnic statements are made during the incident.
When hate group symbols are displayed.
When the motive of a crime is to harm, injure or intimidate a particular group or organization.
When the victim perceives it to be a hate crime.
Frankly, it is often difficult to have an objective and civil discussion of such cases with passions running high. I am not convinced that the Baltimore case is a hate crime and I certainly understand why the Police Chief does not want to add an inflammatory race element to a crime that is already causing public discord. However, the Baltimore and Martin cases do raise interesting questions on how certain crimes are defined as suspected hate crimes. The question is whether “but for” the race of people like the Baltimore tourist attack, the mob would have left him alone. He was the only person currently known to have been subjected to this demeaning attack on that day. It is unclear how that question can be answered from these videos alone. If he was initially singled out due to his race, does that make this a possible hate crime? In either case, do you believe it is possible to exclude race as a motivating factor based on this videos?
Source: Baltimore Sun