Friday, June 19, 2015

Labeling crime

One issue in political discourse is how to label certain crimes. The way we label crimes is a way of framing the issue. That, in turn, can be used to advance a political agenda. 

For instance, some leftwing pundits accused some rightwing pundits of racism for referring to rioters (e.g. looters, vandals, arsonists) in Ferguson and Baltimore as "thugs." They said rightwing pundits were using that as code language for the N-word. 

But for that objection to stick, critics would have to demonstrate that rightwing pundits (especially white conservatives) reserve the word "thug" for blacks. If, however, rightwing pundits use "thug" to characterize the behavior rather than the race of the agent, then the allegation is demonstrably false. For instance, I've seen Lois Lerner referred to as a thug. I've seen Eliot Spitzer called a thug. Vladimir Putin is often called a thug. And so on and so forth. 

On the heels of that, leftwing pundits accused rightwing pundits of a hypocritical double standard for calling the violent altercation between the two Texan skinhead biker gangs a "gunfight" or "shootout" rather than domestic terrorism. 

However, that's ridiculous. It's routine to refer to armed altercations between gangs or gangs and police as gunfights or shootouts. Take the North Hollywood shootout or the Gunfight at O.K. Corral. 

Now there's the question of how this Chas shooting should be labeled. Hate-crime? Domestic terrorism?

I have no intrinsic objection to calling it an act of domestic terrorism. However, some conservatives are understandably leery of that terminology because the DOJ and Southern Poverty Law Center treats conservative groups as domestic terrorists which require special monitoring–even though these groups don't commit or threaten violence. 

Conversely, shadow terrorist groups like CAIR enjoy official protection.  

Likewise, this figures in the larger concern about the surveillance state, domestic drones, &c. 

Problem is, "terrorist" is so amorphous that it becomes a very indiscriminate designator.

As legally defined, there's an obvious sense in which the Chas shooting was a "hate crime." But conservatives are leery of that terminology as well because it's part of larger paradigm, where you have "protected classes"–which violates the equal protection clause. 

Likewise, conservative organizations like the Family Research Council get branded "hate groups" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, &c.

And, after all, we could just as well call the Chas shooting mass murder, a massacre, an atrocity, &c. There are other terms that are at least as accurate.

No comments:

Post a Comment