In a recent column, Richard Roeper argued that pulling a Muslim woman’s headscarf may be mean, but it’s not a hate crime.
Fortunately, the law doesn’t criminalize being “mean” (how on Earth would that be defined anyway?)
What the law does do, however, is define a battery. Battery is intentional, unpermitted contact causing harm or offense by one person against another. That’s what Valerie Kenney did when she tried to pull off a Muslim woman’s headscarf at a Jewel in Tinley Park. Moreover, when a person commits such an offense because of hatred towards the victim because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, etc., it becomes a hate crime. In other words, battery is one thing, battery based on bigotry is another.
Hate crimes are their own class of crime for a very good reason: The enhanced classification and punishment deters people from criminally acting out on their bigotry. It is the government’s obligation to its citizens to take a no-tolerance position on such crimes.
As for Kenney, I am confident that the justice system will determine the appropriate punishment for her. Though three years in jail and up to $25,000 is the maximum sentence, it’s not the only sentence option available. Our justice system entrusts judges and juries to make the fairest determination in light of the facts.