If you are old enough to remember 1968, you may be more than a little uneasy about the increasingly violent confrontations about race. It is a little hard to think that this will all be resolved somehow. That Ferguson will be made right, that the deaths of young black males at the hands of the police in Wisconsin, Ohio, South Carolina and elsewhere — none of this is certain, and at times the only thing to move us back from the edges of our seats is a joke made by Tina Fey at the Golden Globes in January: “[T]he movie Selma is about the American Civil Rights Movement that totally worked and now everything’s fine.”
Here in North Carolina, the hot-button issue is not color but religion — from the headlines, it looks as if religion, specifically Islam, is becoming a hotter issue with each passing week. Our most recent issue stems from the deaths of three Muslim American college students in Chapel Hill. A white neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in within hours of shooting the three victims “execution style,” as one report put it. Their religion has become central to the case, even if there is very little mention of Hicks bearing ill will toward Muslims or, it seems, the victims.
Nevertheless, even if he has already been charged with murder, and even if the prosecution is planning to seek the death penalty, more and more people are calling for him to be charged with a hate crime. Is Hicks the stand-in for the officers in Ferguson and New York that were not charged at all? Is the community, the country that eager for someone to pay a price for those deaths?
Hicks is already charged with a capital crime. Adding “hate crime” as an aggravating factor under North Carolina law will not result in more than one execution.
If the FBI finds enough evidence to charge Hicks under federal law, the public could have its hate crime trial. The federal government, unlike North Carolina, has a hate crime law that states that anyone who causes harm or attempts to cause harm to another person based on “the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person” will receive a prison sentence of not more than 10 years. If that act results in death, however, the sentence is extended to “any term of years or for life.”
This is not a capital crime. Where is the “advantage?”
Perhaps this is an example of just how powerful words can be — “hate crime” sounds more serious than “premeditated murder,” and it will start a different conversation. Perhaps it is an effort to put a face on all of the perceived hate crimes around the country right now. There are dangerous precedents at stake in this case, and it really could have been an argument over a parking spot.
Source: 18 United States Code Annotated § 249 (West) via WestlawNext