Punish the deed

Posted: Friday, March 12, 2010

The following editorial appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

Alaska's penalties for crimes committed should be increased based on the crime, not the motivation, if they need to be increased.

Some might argue that increases are overdue. We've all wondered at some of the penalties handed out for particular crimes, thinking to ourselves: That one got off too easy.

Rarely do we think someone was over-penalized. If a murderer gets 99 years, we accept it.

It's only when a sentence seems insufficient that the general public responds, at least when the murderer is a stranger. Family and friends of victims and suspects often react.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee has heard mostly supportive testimony this week for a bill designed to increase the penalties for what often are labeled "hate crimes" - crimes motivated by hatred, bias and prejudice.

The bill would increase the penalty for a crime if it was prompted by hate.

Hate, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, means: Intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger or a sense of injury; an extreme dislike. It also means an absence of love.

We believe that most crimes occur because of an absence of love - at least at the moment that they are being committed.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to love - truly love - and violate another, whether when it comes to murder, rape, vandalism or something similar.

It's also worth noting that people should be punished for the deed they commit, not the thought or motivating factor behind it. People can think about committing a crime and it won't result in punishment unless they carry it out. And people go through life without committing crimes despite their feelings about the race, sexual orientation, gender, age, impairments, accomplishments, or religious beliefs of others. Lots of people hate at one time or another. Most of those people don't commit a crime as a result.

The fact remains also that people's feelings change. They might begin life with nary a negative thought about someone else and grow into bigots. Or they might be raised to fear a person of another race and learn through life's experiences that they can love those who look different from themselves.

No doubt, whatever a person's starting point, it would be used in court to sway the outcome of a trial and the severity of punishment in the end.

Alaska has its penalties for major crimes. If the penalties are inadequate, they should be revised. But specific motivations shouldn't be the key that turns the penalty up.

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