Elizabeth Wright, Issues & Views, August 30, 2006
“Mr. Minucci’s words and actions and the very nature of the crime send out a deplorable message of intolerance and exclusion which impacts us all… The fact that the crimes were committed as hate crimes makes them far more repugnant and deserving of an enhanced punishment.”
That such words should come from a newspaper pundit or Op-Ed commentator would be perfectly acceptable. The fact that they come from a judge is disgraceful. The views of an editorialist or commentator, however misguided, can be tossed aside or taken to heart by those who agree or disagree with him. But what recourse is there from a judge with the power to punish, based on some bias in his own head concerning the proper way to think about race?
We have published at least a dozen articles on this site about the emergence of municipal and state “hate crime” laws. What more can be said about divvying up groups into those who deserve greater protection on the basis of their race or special characteristics, and those who do not? What more is there to say about a society grounded in freedom of speech, while its citizens allow for the punishment of thought? As predicted, it did not take long for “hate crimes” to encompass “hate speech.”
The story of Nicholas Minucci’s troubles began on the night of June 29, 2005, when the 19-year-old was approached by a friend, Frank Agostini, who said he had just been accosted by three black men attempting to rob a gold chain he wore around his neck. Minucci set out in his car with his friend to find the men in question. Their neighborhood was the predominantly white section of Howard Beach, in Queens, New York.
During their search, they spotted three black men, who Minucci claimed were acting “suspiciously” like the types who frequently came into their community to steal cars. Minucci grabbed a baseball bat from his car and chased the men, two of whom fled, while one slipped and fell. This was Glenn Moore, who Minucci then struck twice over the head with the bat. After being struck, Moore got up and ran away and went to a hospital under his own steam. From the manner in which he behaved in court a year later, it appears that the injuries suffered had not interfered with his ability to get on with his life.
Minucci’s act was a foolish pre-emptive crime that deserved to be punished. We cannot decide that someone might commit an act we disapprove of, and attack on that basis. A punishment was certainly due, but for the crime itself. Minucci was sentenced to 15 years in prison. New York State Supreme Court Judge Richard Buchter added eight years to Minucci’s sentence because, in the commission of his crime, he yelled “Nigger!” Syndicated columnist Nat Hentoff writes, “Those eight years were not because of Minucci’s act (the beating of Moore), but for what he said. “
When Minucci went looking for the men who attempted to rob his friend, he skipped over several blacks when told they were not the culprits. If he had been looking for just any “niggers” to beat up, he had ample opportunities, which he did not take. He stopped purposely at three men who appeared to be casing the automobiles in the area. In court, the men admitted this is exactly what they were doing. (The modus operandi of a car thief is a pattern familiar to savvy New Yorkers.)
There is no reason why the court should not have accepted this motive-intention on the part of Minucci for his crime. None of the details concerning his speech should have been rationalized or thrashed out, as they were in court, because the only issue that should have prevailed was the defendant’s unwarranted assault on the victim. In the course of the trial, the subject of Moore’s fractured skull was all but lost. In fact, the New York tabloids began to refer to Minucci as the “hate-crime defendant,” not the “assault and battery defendant.” As far as they were concerned, Minucci was on trial for “hating.”
Contrary to Judge Buchter’s ridiculous claim, the thoughts that might have been in Minucci’s head did not make his assault “far more repugnant and deserving of an enhanced punishment.” If the judge personally found Minucci’s thoughts repugnant, he was doing nothing more than expressing his own personal inclinations. However, his personal feelings about Minucci’s attitudes should not have entered into the manner in which he conducted the trial or affected the sentencing procedure.
Buchter also claimed that the use of the “n” word was “an affront to Glenn Moore’s worth as a human being.” So, if we verbally affront someone’s worth as a human being, are we deserving of eight years in prison? And just what would Buchter do with the tens of thousands (maybe millions?) of blacks who regularly use the “nigger” term deliberately as an invective against other blacks? Even if Minucci did harbor the malice described by the judge, since when did Americans lose the right to hold intolerant attitudes or to be exclusive? Again, Buchter, finding such notions “deplorable,” simply gives us a view into his own mindset.
Minucci, known as a neighborhood tough, certainly had been in his share of fights with other white youths his age. What were the nature of the expletives he spewed out during those feuds? In a brawl with an Irish kid, for example, might he have pulled out all the stops, and delivered every denigrating insult he could connect to Irish ethnicity? Of course, there would be no “enhancement” of his prison sentence, under those circumstances.
In their book, Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics, James Jacobs and Kimberly Potter make the point that a great many, if not most “hate crimes” are committed by young people, a high percentage of them juveniles. The epithets that fly are often spur-of-the-moment outbursts, and are not motivated by hard-core ideology. To call a person a “racist,” who succumbs to his anger and spews forth a verbal tirade against an adversary, is overreaching and is not accurate. Jacobs and Potter write: “Hate crime cannot be accurately counted because, given the ambiguous, subjective, and contentious concept of prejudice, it cannot be accurately defined.”
From comments made in interviews, Minucci seemed sincerely perplexed by the “racist” tag being applied to him. He had, after all, spent so much of his life among other ethnic groups, having been raised in the racially mixed neighborhood of East New York, Brooklyn. Like most kids his age, he was preoccupied with “urban” music and similar past times. In interviews, he seemed genuinely put out by the racist label that the newspapers were fixing to him, which he found incomprehensible.
Ride the New York City subway and listen in on teenagers, blacks and non-blacks, interacting with one another, while the word “nigger” punctuates their conversation. In the intimacy of one another’s company, they are oblivious to the offensive origin of the word, and think that “old fogies” are kind of nuts to make a fuss about it. No doubt, Minucci used the word in a derogatory fashion, when he pounced on Moore, but he had come to know the word on several levels of meaning.
As if understanding the nature of Minucci’s dilemma, members of Glenn Moore’s family graciously asked the judge for leniency in the sentencing of the defendant. But the judge was on too much of a personal “anti-racist” roll to be distracted by mercy.
Besides the judge’s own prejudice in the case, Minucci had to face three other troublesome hurdles. These were the appearance of ambulance-chaser Al Sharpton, who felt compelled to call out the troops and do his rally-march thing; the interference of New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who could not resist grandstanding against “racism”; and the prior history of a similar crime committed in 1986, in Howard Beach, where the black victim, also a suspected thief, was not lucky enough to survive being chased into traffic by a white man.
A good judge, of course, would have seen to it that none of these extraneous factors interfered with fair treatment of the defendant standing before him.
(Posted on September 26, 2006)