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It's A Gray Area: Political correctness pulls us apart

Diseases and IllnessesJustice SystemMartin Luther King Jr.Assault

A feeling of resentment by many minority groups smolders beneath the surface of some of our country's laws.

These minorities feel relegated into second-class citizenship. Why?

Because some of our laws appear to make some groups more important or worthy of protection than others.

For example, it is certainly true that a nation's laws are a statement of its values and what it holds dear. So when we pass laws about "hate crimes," we are dictating values that, not only do we not condone assaults based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or otherwise, but that we will prosecute them.

It is the "otherwise" part that gets us into trouble. What people do not focus on is that this approach also divides us and pulls us apart. Why?

Because when one minority group gets recognized as being so "special" that it warrants a law expressly for its protection, that means that it is frequently and almost inescapably seen as denigrating other minority groups that have not been so designated.

Thus, although it may be counter-intuitive, we should repeal all "hate crime" laws. Our laws should not put one group into competition with another on the issue of who is more special, important or vulnerable.

Simply stated, things like an assault and battery should be crimes regardless of the identity of the victim, and those crimes should be prosecuted. Then only after the perpetrator has been convicted, the particular circumstances in that individual case — including possible situations of hate and prejudice — should be explored and argued to the judge for an appropriate sentence.

All cases are unique in some fashion, and basically this approach is designed to deal well and appropriately with each of them.

Yes, to assault a person who is black, Hispanic, gay, elderly, or a fan of the San Francisco Giants simply because of that condition is reprehensible, and the perpetrator should be punished. But is that assault necessarily worse than if the victim were to be Asian, Italian, straight, young, or a fan of the Boston Red Sox? I hope the answer to that question is plain. Besides, we can't continue to address every bad situation by simply passing another law.

Fundamentally we must understand that we will never run out of minority groups that could be victimized, so why should we go down that road at all? This approach simply pulls us apart at the exact time that we so badly need to be drawn together.

This situation is similar to the voters passing initiatives to fund specific good causes like research into stem cells or the causes of cancer or AIDS. Of course, those causes are noble, but are they inherently more so than Parkinson's Disease, sickle cell anemia or alcoholism?

To the degree reasonably possible all that should be funded, but if breast cancer — which usually afflicts women — is publicly funded, that often alienates many men who are fearful of testicular cancer. And since, as I understand it, sickle cell anemia more often affects the African-American community, not publicly funding research into its cause can be seen as an affront to those people. Is that what we want to do?

We run into the same problem with our state holidays. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man who was pivotal to the history of our country and the world. To have a holiday to honor him and what he represents is certainly a good thing. But that was almost immediately seen as a slight to Hispanics, who obviously also have great men and women equally worthy of being honored with a holiday.

So since the Hispanic community is expanding in political power, it did not take too long for the California Legislature to address that problem by making Cesar Chavez's birthday a public holiday. Personally I agree with honoring Cesar Chavez, and actually met and did some work for him when I was at USC Law School.

But where will it end? There certainly are also heroes from other minority groups that are seen as equally worthy, so why should those groups be slighted?

Nowadays California courts close for 12 state holidays in the calendar year. While I was a sitting judge, I certainly appreciated the time off, but I always saw it as a situation that short-changed people in the private sector.

Today, our paid state holidays include the birthdays of Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, as well as the day of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.

But since having paid holidays is expensive and in many ways divisive, maybe our holidays should be more generic. We could still have paid public holidays for things like Presidents' Day, Veteran's Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving, and then leave the celebration of the many worthy individual heroes in our society to the private world.

Without a doubt all of these are certainly sensitive areas, but we must understand that we will never run out of worthy victim groups to protect, noble causes to research and heroic people to celebrate. And the problem is that each time we pick one person or group, we divide ourselves that much more from each other.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or through his website at http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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