Thought crimes

I’ve been quiet so far about the attack against Stanislav Shmulevich, a 23 year old Pace University student who was arrested for flushing a Koran down the toilet. Part of my silence was because this story happened while I was on vacation, which made blogging about it (heck, even thinking about it) difficult. And part of my silence has been that others have been blogging about it so effectively and eloquently that I felt little needed to be said. For example, here’s Robert Spencer summarizing what happened and including some of the most effective criticism of the police action against Shmulevich:

A 23-year-old student at Pace University, Stanislav Shmulevich, was arrested Friday and charged with two felony counts of Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree as a Hate Crime. Numerous analysts have been quick to recognize the cruel irony of these charges. Mark Steyn quippedMichelle Malkin responded with the grim truth: “Actually, no. The NEA would have turned Shmulevich in to the police, too. Now, if he had submerged a Bible in urine or coated a Torah in cow dung and submitted it for a federal grant, he’d be sitting pretty–and facing rave New York Times editorials instead of time behind bars.” that instead of flushing the Qur’an, “obviously Mr Shmulevich should have submerged it in his own urine, applied for an NEA grant and offered it to the Whitney Biennial. But to that

And that’s why, as Christopher Hitchens said, “This has to stop, and it has to stop right now. There can be no concession to sharia in the United States. When will we see someone detained, or even cautioned, for advocating the burning of books in the name of God? If the police are honestly interested in this sort of ‘hate crime,’ I can help them identify those who spent much of last year uttering physical threats against the republication in this country of some Danish cartoons.”

Indeed, it has to stop. For all the examples of the double standard that he, Malkin and others have brought forth – from Piss Christ to Chris Ofili’s Turner-Prize-winning, elephant-dung and pornography-bedecked Virgin Mary and the rest – emphasize the fact that the real agenda of today’s dominant politically correct culture is certainly not tolerance, or even anything-goes moral relativism. Some things most emphatically don’t go, as Stanislav Shmulevich’s two felony charges indicate. As a cultural movement, political correctness and multiculturalism are emphatically anti-Western and anti-Christian. And they are also suicidal.

I really can’t add anything to that, beyond saying that I agree wholeheartedly.

This whole episode, however, serve as a useful springboard to discuss a very disturbing trend in American law, which is the development of hate crimes law. Hate crimes laws initially said that, if you thought the wrong thoughts while committing a traditionally criminal act, your penalty ought to be greater than if you were thinking any other thoughts (or not thinking at all) while committing that same act. The Pace arrest seems to raise the whole thing to a whole new level, in that it makes a crime out of the thoughts alone, without the necessity even of an attendant criminal act. (Last I heard, destroying a book, even a religious book, is not a criminal act in America.) While the latter is infinitely worse than the former, both are disastrously bad for anyone who believes, as I do, in Free Speech.

The First Amendment, of course, is not shy about its overarching commitment to Free Speech:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The proscription against placing limits on free speech becomes meaningless, however, if government is allowed to do an end run around actual speech and instead simply police free thought. In a free society, people’s thoughts should be their own. To the extent that we, the public, don’t like those thoughts, the marketplace of ideas, and the entire notion of free speech, demands that we counter those thoughts with other, better thoughts, not that we run crying to the State whining that someone has been thinking (not saying), but thinking something with which we disagree.

Fundamentally, the State’s only concern should be people’s actions. To the extent thought is involved, non-activist courts have identified those very limited situations in which certain types of incredibly inflammatory speech that threaten the core of all our liberties may be criminalized — e.g., sedition, threats to public generally, specific threats of death and violence.

The bottom line is that a robust Constitution, indeed a robust country, cannot survive if the Government starts policing thoughts that present no harm to the public well-being, but that might hurt someone’s feelings. What’s going on at Pace is not just a wrongful act against Mr. Shmulevich, it is an act that strikes at the heart of our core freedoms. We should therefore all be outraged and very vigilant.

UPDATE:  The good news is that Mr. Shmulevich will have counsel representing him.  You can stay tuned to various major blogs for more information if you’d like to help defray costs (counsel is acting pro bono).


12 Responses

  1. Hate crime laws means that for some reason it is a worse offense to kill my friend who is a gay man than it is to kill me, since I’m straight. It is worse to murder my friend who is darker-skinned than I. It is worse if a Muslim woman is attacked than if I am.

    Hate crime laws are racism. Pure and simple. The “minorities” (some of which, e.g. women, are a majority) have gained enough political clout to make themselves a privileged class. Forty years after the Civil Rights Act there is no more pretense of correcting for past abuses — it is revenge enshrined in law.

    Hate crime laws are themselves a crime engendered of hate.

  2. Though to be honest he does seem to be guilty of vandalism and destroying school property.

  3. That’s certainly true, Synova, but the charges leveled against him far transcend the more mundane (but naughty) acts of vandalism. Shmulevich, who admittedly sounds like a tacky guy with some impulse control problems, got hit with federal charges, including the anti-Constitutional charge of a thought crime, er, hate crime. That’s very troubling indeed, especially because, as everyone points out, those same charges are not leveled at people who desecrate Christian symbols.

  4. I don’t think he even vandalized the toilet. At worst he damaged someone else’s book.

    This is all just part of the same trend so to speak. As people see America weaken from Iraq and domestic anti-war groups, folks will swarm around and try to take America down. The Left boasts that terrorism cannot destroy American liberty. Just another one in their predictable track record of incompetency. Or perhaps the Left thinks only the Islamic Jihad was capable of terrorism, not their utopian buddies.

  5. I sense that this is a push from the elites to the great unwashed. Similar in respect to the illegal amnesty that Congress tried to ram through. Until the little people push back these kind of actions will continue. This headline should alarm all freedom loving Americans.
    California City to Transform Red Light Cameras Into Spy Cameras
    Oakland, California to lobby legislature to allow 24-hour video surveillance with red light camera system.
    As long as people don’t vote and learn what government is trying to do, we will continue to see these results.

  6. The Left will always be the first to call for police power crackdowns on dissenters. You’ll see come the Revolution.

  7. This is another lesson is the amazingly small number of people required to instantiate a complete legal and cultural paradigm. How many people actually think these kinds of laws are a good idea? I don’t have precise idea, but I know for sure it is vanishingly small compared to the 300 million said to populate this country. What happened to the notion of the “consent of the governed?”

  8. If I began to advocate, right now, that all Muslims be deported, would that be a hate crime? I don’t advocate that, but what if I did? What if I had recently become CONVINCED that support for terrorist acts approached half of all Muslims, and that it was only a matter of time before terrorism engulfed us all? If I never advocated violence nor committed violence, but simply spoke out strongly due to my convictions, would that be a hate crime?

    If I had my way, hate crimes laws would be abolished in favor of one general law addressing “community targeting”. (A targeting of any community of any sort whatsoever, with no acknowledgment of any “victimized” or “special” class.) Kids painting “L’il Jupie 99!” on any clean surface, compared to someone who paints Nazi swastikas on the walls of houses and on the cars of anyone who appears Jewish to them… there does appear to be a difference to me. As an additional penalty, it should be extraordinaly difficult to prove, but for me myself, I do see a difference.

  9. Hope your vaca was restful for your restive mind, BW. We also just returned, and it was all of that, with the usual minor triumphs and tragedies. I like the concept that a hate crime law is a hate crime in itself. Makes complete sense.
    It has long passed time to start pushing back on this concept and the rest of the politically correct, socially engineered behaviors which the left wants to convince the people are the norm. Calmly, clearly stating the inherent contradictions to the loudmouths will do one of two things, shut them up or make them yell louder. Either way, they start loosing.

  10. I’m struggling with this one and I ask for help. I know we’re far down Book’s commentary and this item will soon become archival, but I’ll proceed anyway.

    I cannot decide if Mr. Shmulevich’s actions warrant increased punishment or not. I believe everyone here agrees he can be charged with theft and vandalism, because he stole the book, and then he placed it in the toilet and defecated on it. The problem for me is: Did he do MORE than this?

    Consider our categorizations for the unlawful taking of human life, manslaughter and murder-1, murder-2, etc. A starting definition of manslaughter is: “The unlawful killing of a human being without malice or premeditation, either express or implied; distinguished from murder, which requires malicious intent.” From: “”.

    What is troubling about this is “implied malice”. (See the definition again.) When something is implied, it is circumstantial, and can reasonably be inferred by the entire collection of the evidence, without actual physical proof of the malice.

    If Mr. Shmulevich were in the habit of stealing books from a variety of sources and defecating on them, the situation would clearly be different. He performed the theft and vandalism twice, both with Korans, and his own statements indicate that these are targeted actions at a particular community. To me this implies at least harassment as well as theft and vandalism. Is there a sufficient difference?

    Consider my prior example of a teenager painting “L’il Jupie 99” on any clean surfaces he happens across, vs the deliberate targeting of apparent Jews by the painting of their property with swastikas. Is there a difference there?

    In closing, remember that I consider our current “hate crimes” legislation to be deeply flawed in that it places certain categories ONLY of special victimhood to be eligible for increased penalty. I’m wondering only if there might be some form of a more general law, addressing ANY targetted harassment, that would make a crime worthy of worse punishment.

  11. To me this implies at least harassment as well as theft and vandalism. Is there a sufficient difference?

    Aggravated harassment and just normal harassment.

  12. […] thinking on this actually started a few days ago when I did my post “Thought Crimes.” That’s the one where, using the federal hate crimes case against Stanislav […]

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