Yesterday’s violent attack on the conservative Family Research Council by an apparent gay rights activists puts the spotlight on the Obama Justice Department. Will the Department seriously investigate the shooting – which was motivated by anger at FRC’s advocacy of traditional Christian values including opposition to gay marriage – as a hate crime and, if appropriate, prosecute it as such? Those concerned with equal justice under the law should and will be watching to see whether the Department of Justice does the right thing here.
DOJ’s handling of the FRC case would be closely watched under any President, given the long-standing, nationwide underenforcement of hate crimes laws when the bias behind the crime does not fit a politically correct narrative involving hostility to Muslims, gays, racial minorities and the like. But the attention on Eric Holder’s Justice Department will be particularly intense here, given the well-documented politicization of its Civil Rights Division.
If the reported details of the FRC shooting are accurate, this case is a textbook example of a hate crime. After a security guard took away his gun, suspect Floyd Corkins said, “Don’t shoot me, it was not about you, it was what this place stands for.” Corkins is a volunteer at the DC Center for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) Community, while FRC is a Christian-oriented, pro-life, traditional values organization that has been at the forefront of opposition to same-sex marriage.
In many of the high-profile hate crime cases in the news, bias – based on race, sexual orientation, etc. – is alleged to be only a factor in the crime and must be inferred (hence, the FBI’s questioning of dozens of George Zimmerman’s associates about his racial views). In the FRC case, Corkins’ bias against the Christian values that “this place stands for” was both explicit and the raison d’etre for the crime. Depending on what an investigation reveals, Corkins could also be charged under D.C. law with a hate crime based on “political affiliation” bias.
The doubt about prosecuting this textbook example of a hate crime arises only from the history of hate crime prosecution in this country. Hate crime laws are typically enforced in anything but the symmetric manner required by federal and state statutes and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Instead, non-enforcement of hate crime laws is the norm when the bias does not provide a politically correct story line.
For example, FBI data shows that in 2010, crimes motivated by anti-white bias accounted for less than 18% of the incidents treated as racial hate crimes by law enforcement agencies across the nation, whereas anti-black incidents accounted for 70% of recognized racial hate crimes. Those are shocking figures when you consider the Justice Department’s own statistics:
“Of the 1,700,000 interracial crimes of violence that involved Blacks and Whites, 90 percent were committed by Blacks against Whites; Blacks were thus 250 times more likely to commit violence against Whites than Whites against Blacks.”
Comparable statistics are not available for religious bias. However, despite the fact that Protestants and Catholics make up 76% of the U.S. population (and 88% of Americans identifying a religion), hate crimes against members of those religions were recognized only enough to account for seven percent of religious-bias hate crimes in 2010.
Given President Obama’s well-known view that bitter people cling to religion and Eric Holder’s documented politicization of the Justice Department, the Department risks losing whatever public respect it still retains if it fails to take the religious hate crime committed at FRC seriously. But there’s also an upside here for Obama and Holder. Doing the right thing in this high-profile case presents a great opportunity for them to demonstrate to the nation that the Civil Rights Division is sincerely interested in even-handed enforcement of civil rights laws, while also providing the nation with a valuable teaching moment – reminding us that hate crime laws were intended to protect all victims of bias-related crime.
Curt Levey is a constitutional law attorney and President of the Committee for Justice in Washington, DC. He can be reached at @Curt_Levey on Twitter.