The killers of Ahmaud Arbery were justly and correctly convicted of murder on state charges in Georgia last year. Greg and Travis McMichael were sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Neighbor William “Roddie Bryan was also convicted, but his sentence allowed eligibility for parole in 30 years. These convictions were a huge victory for justice in an age where we see so few.
Now this morning in Federal court, all three were also convicted of hate crimes. I’m not celebrating these convictions like I did the earlier ones. I say this even as my own LGBT community is frequently a target of crimes motivated by hate.
The problem here is that these convictions today are based on thoughts and beliefs. I don’t believe that thoughts or beliefs, no matter how heinous, should be illegal. The acts resulting from these beliefs can and should be punished when appropriate, such as physical attack and murder, as was done with the earlier state convictions. But criminalizing thought is a slippery slope.
Hate crime prosecutions like this erode our constitutional protection against double jeopardy. The McMicheals and Bryan were essentially tried twice for the same crime.
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