The teenager who spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti on walls at Westhampton Beach High School could conceivably find that his spree could be elevated to hate crime status.
New York State passed its Hate Crimes Act in 2013 in response to an uptick in these types of incidents. The law stiffens penalties for many crimes if they are motivated by bias against a victim’s race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or age. In these trying times, when our young have shown the propensity for violence, even against their peers, extra vigilance is warranted.
The sheer nastiness of hate crimes, and the increased public awareness of their frequency, called for some kind of reaction from lawmakers. But police, and our court systems, must also take into account our system has built-in safeguards for underage offenders for good reason: many can and will go on to live productive lives. What happens in our penal system may well prove to be the difference.
We have seen convicted drunk drivers involved in fatalities get off with jail sentences of under two years. We have seen violent criminals severely beat victims and end up on probation.
We don’t know the youngster involved. Suffice it to say he did a stupid thing. But the punishment should fit the crime. Graffiti vandals should, under no circumstances, receive harsher sentences than violent criminals. However, they must be made to realize this type of hatred sometimes manifests itself in more violent ways. Guarding against that was part of the thinking that led to the
Hate Crime laws. In this day and age, our professionals need to consider every possibility.
That said, a little compassion goes a long way. Immature kids who do stupid things shouldn’t be stigmatized for life. They should be given the chance to eventually put it behind them.