What Makes A Crime A ‘Hate Crime’?

in Violent Crimes, on

It looks as if the Durham district attorney will ask for the death penalty in the case against a 46-year-old Chapel Hill man. The defendant, Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in to sheriff’s deputies on Feb. 11, a few hours, he said, after he shot three neighbors to death in their apartment.

Let’s try that again. It looks … after he shot three college students to death in their apartment.

Maybe “after he shot three Muslim college students to death….”

Or, “after he shot three Muslim American college students to death ….” But if we say that, do we have to say “the defendant, a white man …?”

On Feb. 11, a white 46-year-old man approached two sheriff’s deputies in Chatham County. The man, Craig Stephen Hicks, told them he had shot and killed a 23-year-old dental student, his 21-year-old wife, and another woman, the wife’s 19-year-old sister. The victims were his neighbors in a Chapel Hill condominium complex. The victims were Muslim Americans; the defendant is not.

A few days after the killings, a grand jury indicted Hicks on three counts of murder and an additional count of discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling. He remains in custody while the victims’ families and friends, their community, the local, national and international press, lawmakers and political pundits debate why he did this.

Hicks, the thinking goes, had one of two motives which, when considered together, almost strike a note of absurdity. This was a hate crime, or it was a fight over parking. How is meaningful discourse even possible when one option is an ant and the other an elephant?

Maybe it starts with understanding what a hate crime is. But, then, there’s another question: Are we talking about North Carolina’s hate crime laws or federal hate crime laws?

We’ll discuss the difference in our next post.

Sources:

The News & Observer, “DA to seek death penalty in North Carolina triple murder,” Anne Blythe, March 2, 2015

The News & Observer, “Grand jury indicts suspect in shooting deaths of 3 Muslim Americans in Chapel Hill,” Anne Blythe, Feb. 16, 2015