Archives - Jeff Peyton answers Loper questions
May 2002
Hate Crimes and Assaults: Jeff Peyton answers Loper questions
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We've been publishing a series of articles on the general topic of Hate Crimes and Assaults here on the Loper Website. As a part of this series, we are interviewing people with something to share - insight, opinion, even more questions - and will publish these interviews from time to time. The framework for the interviews is a questionnaire, but we will not slavishly force each interview to follow a prescribed format - ideas flow too freely for that.

Dave Sagarin Interview with Jeff Peyton

Should there be hate crime laws?
[First of all] Hate crimes laws are a bad idea constitutionally - the constitution tries to give equal protection [to all people]- and these laws elevate certain classes of victims.

Special protection increases polarization. Hate crime laws mean well, but they're not accomplishing the original goals - 'Life, Liberty, and … Happiness' [are] not codified in the law, not [specially] protected. It's speech, religion - freedoms [like these] that are codified.

In the English common law, and since then, we try to legislate for the common good. Whenever you try to legislate for the specific, for the extreme, you get in trouble. It's bad business, bad law. You can't say, "some people are more equal than others" like in [George Orwell's] Animal Farm.

[And someone could say] 'It's just who I am' - rapists with a genetic defect -- you know, now they say they've found a predisposition or something - could use that to claim protected status: 'I couldn't help myself.'

[And] certain people may or may not deserve more protection. Matthew Shepard … we - the Christian Coalition - were blamed [because of our stand against homosexuality]. Matthew Shepard became a martyr, not a victim. In the end [all the publicity] was more polarizing than effective [for the homosexual cause].

There has been an effort to add sexual orientation to the list of protected classes. Do homosexuals deserve the same protection as other traditionally-persecuted groups?
I think the laws were meant to protect inherent difference, like color. But sexual preference is not inherent in the same way. Homosexuality is a decision - a personal, private preference.

[On the other hand] at the Observer, when I'm hiring, sexual preference never comes up. It's not just, 'don't ask' - it never comes up. It doesn't affect someone's performance.

It isn't in line with my religious views, but ... on the other hand, it's my job as a Christian to share the gospel, and homosexuality is a sin. But so is driving 56 in a 55 mile zone, and I sometimes do that. [And] it's hard to be religious in politics, and to really feel all-or-nothing on many issues.

When I worked for the Christian Coalition, I learned two lessons: Ralph Reed said, 'you won't get anywhere if you count a 60% friend as a 40% enemy." And Chuck Cunningham, a top lobbyist for the NRA, said, 'every time you shoot for all or nothing, you get nothing.'

In a show last year, The West Wing introduced a Republican who gets a job in the White House, where she'll be conspicuous, and her friends are all against it - 'how can you work with that pack of liberals?' and she gets angry, and she says, 'those people are patriots.'

For example, I endorsed Creigh Deeds [for Virginia Senate] - we agree on only a few issues, actually, but I think [most of] what the General Assembly deals with is practical stuff. And I trust that he will do what he says he will do, and I realize that on a lot of issues he's better for the district.

[In fact] there's agreement among a lot of Republicans, better an OK Democrat than a bad Republican, and I just didn't have any respect for Jane Maddox.

Is it the same if a member of a traditionally oppressed group commits a bias crime?
[It should be] exactly the same - a minority group can't use 'I'm a victim' to commit a crime. 'Your ancestors hurt my ancestors, so I'm going to hurt you.'

You ran a cartoon expressing the view that it would have been different if it had been white kids assaulting blacks?
I got in trouble when we ran that cartoon - I got phone calls calling me a racist, and there was some discussion elsewhere - you [Loper website] picked it up, I was happy that you wanted to put it on the website - I was curious to see if what people see [in the cartoon] is an attempt to look at both sides of an issue, or just see what they want to see - I talked it over with McNabb and he offered to do a version with some explanation, some more text in it, but I decided to run it without that.

Then the next week we ran another cartoon about the same subject - it shows, you know, a group of cowboys around the campfire playing poker. You can see the hand of the guy in the foreground, with a bad hand, like 2, 3, 5, 7 - all different suits - and one with a big capital 'R' on it. And the caption is, "Slim bet it all knowing he had a royal flush, but he didn't know he was playing against the Race card!"

There's an expectation - if I'm wronged, the cops will come, take my statement [and not proceed vigorously] - they have other things to do - but if it's done to a 'protected class' they'll pull out all the stops …

But you're aware that many people who are in these minorities are reluctant to get involved with the authorities, especially if it's a minor matter?
Well, there's a feeling that that's the case [police will work harder if a black person complains] - a feeling among the people I talk to.

Comments on Race in his lifetime
Early on, I applied for a job as a newspaper journalist - I was very well qualified, but I didn't get the job - they felt they had to give it to a minority, on a fellowship -- they hired a black woman. She was not qualified, and didn't last very long. In fact, they hired three minority people in a row, and none of them worked out, and then they called me.

The newspaper company made a stupid mistake, to hire less qualified people.

When I grew up in Central Virginia - when racial tensions were high - quota laws, forced desegregation, took whites who weren't biased and made them biased. [But] these laws [over the past 40 years] have had a tremendous effect on society. Things are really very different now because of them.

The first time race was ever an issue in my life, I was 12, it was my 12th birthday party - my family belonged to a pool association - a group of people got together and acquired some land and put in a swimming pool - and my father had to explain to me why some of my friends from school couldn't come to my birthday party at the pool - and he couldn't do it - he was so distraught [over his inability to explain it to me] that we pulled out of the club - I didn't know what racism was, and he couldn't talk to me about it.

When I was in high school, we moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania, and there were only two black kids in the entire school - twins - all the other blacks in the area lived in Harrisburg - when I lived there [that area] was much more segregated than Powhatan County Virginia [had been].

If the white establishment at the time [the civil rights movement started] - the '50s - could have just integrated the society totally - it would have dissolved the black [racial] issue - the total minority population in the country was a much smaller percentage then - instead of having all of the present difficulties, it would have insured white domination of the society forever, but they were too limited to see it.

Are you familiar with the concept of Restorative Justice?
I read about it, and I thought about it, and, as I do with things I'm having trouble understanding, I retreated to my religion - the Old Testament has a lot of restorative justice, in the first five books - the law attempting to set the scale right ….

I can see how it [restorative justice] can help the attacker, to see the victim as human - but [if I'm the victim] the last thing I want is to see the person who attacked me.

I think it's not for everything, but [trying to work toward] an ideal world … it's like making a 12 year old shoplifter take the thing back … shame is a good thing. You know, 'what were you thinking?'

And I think this approach could have a bigger impact - to help restore not just the victim and the offender but to help restore the community. (May 10, 2002)

Jeff Peyton is Publisher of the Charlottesville Observer, and a former staff member of the Christian Coalition

Comments? Questions? Write me at