Nathan Thill, 19, is a heavyset former meatpacker with red hair shaved to his skull and Celtic tattoos on his forearms. He regularly carried a .22-caliber pistol, though he didn’t have a permit. He admits to a deep hatred of anyone different than him — and, fortunately, there aren’t too many like him.
Last Tuesday, he walked through Denver, and, in his own words, “saw the black guy and thought he didn’t belong where he was at. How easy it would be to take him out right there. Didn’t seem like much to me.”
“Allegedly,” as they say, that’s just what he did. He pulled out his gun and killed Oumar Dia, a 38-year-old father of three and a hard-working hotel housekeeper. Dia was expelled from Mauritania eight years ago, reportedly, because he was black. He had come to the United States because he believed in the American dream and to improve his circumstances.
When Jennie VanVelkinburgh, 36, a white woman, came to Dia’s aid, she was shot in the back. The bullet severed her spinal cord. Doctors say the single mother of two will be paralyzed for life.
Understandably, the shootings have Denver panicked. They follow a spate of skinhead incidents — a high-speed car chase that ended with two arrests and another that ended with the murder of a police officer and the suicide of a skinhead. After the skinhead’s death, police stations started receiving death threats. The word “pig” was scrawled on a gang unit police car and a pig carcass scrawled with the name of the dead officer was left at his old police station. Another skinhead was arrested for stockpiling in his motel room bomb-making parts, ammunition and a semi-automatic rifle.
No one is certain if one skinhead organization is responsible for the recent activity. But that’s not really the point. What is the point?
Does anyone think evil, sub-human, low-lifes like Thill would be deterred from similar acts of violence because of so-called “hate-crime laws”?
After all, there are laws prohibiting creeps like Thill from carrying concealed weapons, right? There are laws against murder, right? Neither of those things stopped Thill from doing them. In fact, if he had the brains to contemplate the consequences of his actions, he would have understood that the murder of Dia under such circumstances is so repulsive to the community of Denver that the chance for a lenient sentence is almost nil.
He’s going to be convicted, and he is going to be severely punished — no less than any hate-crime legislation would have mandated.
And that’s the point. Not only are hate-crime laws inherently misguided, un-Constitutional, un-American and dangerous to freedom, they also don’t work. Because, when someone is motivated by the kind of hate and rage that Thill carried around with him every day of his young, miserable life, nothing is going to stop them from terrorizing, killing and maiming short of a vigilant, armed citizenry. In Denver, even the police are under siege from these cowardly monsters.
Punishment should be swift, sure and severe for all crimes against people. I believe punishment is generally a deterrent. But hate-crime laws merely serve to cheapen the lives and property of ordinary crime victims who get no less dead when they are killed in the course of a burglary, robbery or random act of violence.
The Constitution of the United States provides for equal protection under the law. It makes no allusions to greater punishments based on the motivations of the perpetrator.
Government, by nature, always seeks to empower itself by appealing to people’s emotions — by jumping on the latest cause du jour. The current administration in Washington has raised this tactic to an art form. But hate-crime laws won’t stop hate and they won’t stop the violence they cause. They won’t have even the slightest impact on improving public safety, though they might, temporarily, make us feel better.
Think about it. There were 13 million crimes reported in the United States last year. Of those, a total of 750 were classified as so-called “hate crimes.” Would stiffer penalties for those 750 crimes have had any measurable impact on preventing them? Would they have saved the life of Oumar Dia? I don’t think so.
The real answer to deterring crime — all crime — is to punish it. All the laws necessary to do that are on the books already. The answer is not more laws specifying the kinds of crimes we, as a society, are serious about. Let’s get serious about all of them — particularly violent crimes.
If, indeed, Thill murdered Oumar Dia, he deserves nothing less than death — not because of his racial hatred, not because of what was on his mind at the time, but because he pulled the trigger.