I’m delighted to read the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation endorsed hate crimes legislation. (“Tougher penalties sought for shooting Wyoming livestock” Wyoming Tribune-Eagle November 26, 2016). Well, sort of.
Admittedly, the term “hate crimes” is not a politically-correct title for explaining such legislation. The title confuses people about what these laws do. They don’t criminalize hate. Hate is still legal. These laws enhance penalties to reduce the commission of certain crimes. Hate crimes legislation provide increased penalties when a crime is committed for the purpose of victimizing people because of their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.
The legislation supported by the Farm Bureau do the same. They seek to enhance penalties courts may impose on people who victimize their cows. Today anyone wrongfully killing livestock must pay a fine and reimburse the farmer or rancher for the value of the animal. The Farm Bureau doesn’t think an “eye for an eye” approach is sufficient. It wants tougher penalties. It wants “four eyes for an eye.” If the Farm Bureau gets its way, anyone shooting a cow will have to reimburse the owner in an amount four times the animal’s fair market value.
It works this way. If someone shoots my little dog Bob, they are liable to me for my beloved pet’s fair market value. But the Farm Bureau proposes to place their animals in a different class. They think their animals deserve more protection than the law gives Bob.
Delegates to the Farm Bureau’s recent state convention argued convincingly there are simply too many people shooting their livestock. Enhanced penalties, they suggest, are necessary to deter those crimes. “Voting delegates felt the penalty should be substantial enough to deter future actions,” Federation Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton explained.
I get it. Not many criminals are threatening to shoot Bob. However, poachers are shooting too many farm animals. Farm Bureau members have a case. Farmers and ranchers believe enhanced penalties are the solution to crimes targeting livestock. The legislature should listen to them. Enhancing the penalties for such crimes may just work.
Now consider this. The logical extension of that kind of thinking would lead one to believe the same approach could also deter crimes against certain classes of people. Just as people are shooting more cows, more people are victimizing people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community.
It’s important to know that simply hating a person is not a crime. Nor is hating a cow. When you act out of hate a crime is committed. The FBI defines “hate crime” as a criminal offense motivated by “an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”
And just as the Farm Bureau reports a troubling increase in cow shootings, the FBI reports a frightening increase in crimes targeting some human beings. Among religion-based targets, anti-Jewish attacks were higher in sheer numbers while attacks against Muslims increased the most, rising 67% between 2014 and 2015 when overall hate crimes rose 6.8%. During that period crimes against gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people were up five percent.
USA Today reports the problem sharply increased following the November 8 election. “Civil rights advocates have been tracking hundreds of incidents since last month’s contentious election in which communities of color and other groups have been targets of harassment, intimidation, and worse.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center documented that “In the ten days following Donald Trump's victory, we've seen 867 incidents of harassment, intimidation and even violence. The targets? Immigrants, African Americans, LGBT people, Muslims, Jews, and women. And in almost 40% of the reported incidents, harassers explicitly invoked the name or campaign rhetoric of president-elect Donald Trump.”
President-elect Donald Trump instructed any of his followers who might be involved to “stop it.”
The Wyoming legislature needs to send a “stop-it” message to poachers as well as bigots. If you target either a farmer’s livestock or human beings, penalties imposed on you will be harsh enough to cause others to think twice.