I don’t often write letters to the editor. In fact, I don’t ever remember doing so in the past. I am a strong believer former governors should be neither seen nor heard on matters of current affairs. We have experienced our time on the stage of history, and we should leave to those who come after us to decide our time there. But, I must take up my pen to reply to my friend Roger Hines in his article criticizing HB 426 as a bill to criminalize thoughts. Nothing could be further from the truth.
HB 426 allows for enhanced punishment for an underlying crime if the defendant “intentionally selected any victim … because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability of such victim…” It does not allow the criminalization of thought, and applies only when an underlying crime has been committed. Then if a defendant intentionally targeted that person, the enhanced punishment is allowed and then only after the jury has found beyond a reasonable doubt such targeting was proven. To say this is the criminalization of thought is simply wrong.
Juries have to decide intent and other mental states all the time. Murder has the element of malice to convict. Possession of drugs with the intent to distribute requires the finding of intent. The transportation of persons across state lines for immoral purposes requires the finding of intent.
What we must not do is to allow comfortable old stereotypes to become knee-jerk reactions to those who seek to right old wrongs. I sprang from the red clay of Cobb County, attended segregated public schools in this county and believed the fighting of the Civil War was a noble undertaking of my ancestors. I was in high school before I learned the South lost the Civil War. The way everybody talked, I thought the South had won. In all of these, I was wrong. Race is intertwined in the sinews of our history and those beliefs of race were wrong, and should be admitted as such.
Though I greatly respect my friend Roger Hines, he is wrong on his observation of the Hate Crimes Bill. We all have a responsibility to speak up. We have been silent for too long.
Roy E. Barnes