Hate Crimes: Bernie Sanders’s Political Theater

Bernie_SandersColumn by Ryan Calhoun

Presidential contender and “progressive” hero Bernie Sanders has been rightfully criticized for his support of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The act, also known as the “Biden Crime Bill,” dramatically increased police presence and funding, banned “assault weapons,” and created strict new sentencing guidelines.

Somehow Sanders has managed to escape criticism for a similarly bad piece of legislation he supported — the Local Law Enforcement Against Hate Crimes Act — another virtual gift bag for police departments. Hate crime legislation is often accepted as a net gain for minority communities. But in today’s over-criminalized, over-incarcerated, police state, the last thing we need is a new excuse to lock people up, no matter how feel-good hate crime legislation might seem.

While Sanders claims to oppose mandatory minimum sentences, his support for these two draconian bills shows he’s just fine with the status quo so long as he can apply some lipstick to it.  The increased sentencing regimes created by these acts further solidifies a permanent prisoner class. This does not look like opposition to an out of control criminal justice system; it appears more like an endorsement of the criminal justice system when it suits Bernie’s surface-level political agenda.

However well-intentioned his support for this increased sentencing power may be, it fuels mass incarceration, plain and simple. Longer sentences for those convicted of hate crimes gains communities of color nothing except a legislative and judicial spectacle. In many cases, it is members of minority communities who are locked up for longer terms by these sorts of laws.

Moreover, an increase in the population of bigots in the prison system doesn’t help those already stuck there, many of whom don’t belong. Sanders occasionally acknowledges the ongoing injustice perpetrated on those incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. But new hate crime laws can only hurt these people, the forgotten victims. Too often, “progressives” forget about the suffering of these people and their right to be protected. Do they really need to be introduced to a new class of cellmates?

Sanders says he wants to end the use of private prisons. But how does he expect to accomplish this while supporting longer sentences for his “pet” crimes?

It’s also worth noting that mass incarceration isn’t just the result of the profit motive underlying private prisons. It’s an extension of the state’s desire for authority and control — an age old problem. That a privileged class of prison industrialists now benefits financially from the state’s power lust doesn’t change the root issue. Anyone who wants to end the corrupt criminal justice system needs to first address the state’s executive role in it.

Hate crime laws, like all other new criminalization, grants more resources and power to police departments. That they are for a supposedly noble purpose does not stop law enforcement from using them maliciously. Could the slave patrols of the South have been trusted with resources granted to them for the purpose of protecting slaves from unnecessarily cruel masters?

Hate crime legislation diverts precious resources from oppressed communities and transfers them into the hands of the powerful. The funds used to propose, pass, and execute the terms of hate crime legislation are funds stolen from the public, including communities of color, who are often then victimized by the very institutions putting their bounty to use. The parasitic nature of the state and law enforcement weakens the financial and social stability of those it claims to protect. Enough is enough. Return the multi-billions of dollars looted from taxpayers for programs like the Biden Crime Bill and the Hate Crimes Act to their rightful owners. Empower communities to make the changes that no government ever can.

We need to eliminate the middle men playing both sides of the fence. The state and its vast enforcement arm play the dual role of protector and attacker. Restorative and transformative methods of justice must be emphasized by anyone campaigning as an advocate of black lives and the lives of other marginalized communities. For what use is talking about black lives if all we’re doing is enacting white punishment?

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