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The Perversion Of Hate

Laws Against Hate Crimes Are an Idea Gone Sour. Prosecutors Apply Them Unfairly and the List of 'Special Victims' Keeps Growing.

October 22, 2000|FRED DICKEY | Fred Dickey last wrote about Arianna Huffington for the magazine

Billy McCall is a man of dubious distinction. He is the first man in the nation convicted of a hate crime against women, says his San Diego County prosecutor. Regrettably, this 29-year-old black man is not the first person convicted of a "hate crime" unjustly.

In September 1999, in a scene captured on a Macy's department store security camera, McCall approached a young woman and tried to make conversation. She walked briskly away. He followed her, talking rapidly, then shoved her into a table of shoes. She stumbled, regained her footing and turned to face him. McCall took a few steps toward her, then swerved away and departed.

The young woman was Yvonne Bejarano, 18-year-old daughter of David Bejarano, San Diego's police chief. After San Diego television stations repeatedly aired the video, four other women came forward to charge that McCall had publicly abused them, too, with assaults ranging from yanking their hair to knocking one of them to the pavement. McCall was found guilty of five counts of assault and battery and sentenced to four years. Jurors also convicted him of a hate crime, adding two years to his term.

At his trial, Hector Jimenez, the deputy district attorney in charge of hate crime prosecution for San Diego County, told the court: "Unless this defendant receives a serious penalty under the law for his crime, the court will have transmitted the message that this crime is not important in society's list of priorities. He's not some unguided missile who will hit anyone and everything. He only hits attractive women when he's angry. . . ."

The phrase "attractive women" was pivotal, because under the hate crime laws proliferating around the country, "hate" must be directed at a particular group: racial, ethnic, religious, gender. But Billy McCall, as it happens, is an equal opportunity hater. He's an angry man capable of lashing out at anyone at any time. "Billy needs help," says his mother, Shelley Julian. "He has this tremendous anger that just comes over him. He can't seem to help himself. If you, or anybody, were standing across the street and Billy thought you were staring at him, he'd be over there in a flash, and you'd better have a good explanation. He gets in fights all the time."

Indeed, McCall had been imprisoned before--for violence against men as well as women--and just before being charged with hating women only, he was arrested for attacking his 19-year-old brother, inflicting a facial cut that required 13 stitches. Prosecutors did not charge him for that crime because it would have contradicted their argument that McCall hated women specifically, says his attorney, Karolyn E. Kovtun of San Diego.

McCall clearly is a menace, one who deserves punishment--and who undoubtedly needs psychological help. Does it matter that he is serving extra time for hating women? What's important is that McCall is off the streets. Yet his case is troubling if you believe in justice in the largest sense, if you realize McCall's experience is repeated across the country, and if you consider what the nation's recent love affair with hate crime laws truly has wrought.

Hate crime legislation has been an easy sell to legislatures and the public because of a general belief that the laws will primarily punish synagogue bombers and Klan murderers, who are almost always dealt with severely anyway. Instead, the offenders commonly nailed by these laws are poor and uneducated whites and minorities whose offenses often are closer to throwing punches than bombs. Intended to send a signal that violence against racial, ethnic or religious groups is no longer tolerable in America, the laws instead are being used by prosecutors in questionable circumstances to demonstrate that they are tough on hate. Intended to give some measure of protection to historical victims of racism, the laws instead are being expanded to cover an ever-lengthening list of victims groups.

Former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner advocated hate crime laws while he was in office, from 1984 to 1992. He lobbied for them to end hate activities and conspiracies as practiced primarily by groups attempting to impose their agenda on society through terror and violence, especially by targeting minorities. Instead, he says, hate crime laws have become the captive of victims groups and prosecutors who buckle under their pressure. "The hijacking of hate crime legislation occurred when every victim group decided to validate their status by having their group added to the list. I guess if you're not on the list, you're a second-class victims group."

John Jackson, supervisor of academic instruction for the California Department of Corrections, says simply that in California, "The Legislature has gone completely mad."

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