Missouri’s 2008 legislative session will surely see many bills introduced that purport to solve “problems” which may or may not even exist in Missouri. It IS an election year. One of those bills is from Senator Yvonne Wilson, D-Kansas City.
The Senator has filed SENATE BILL NO. 763 which makes displaying a noose a hate crime in Missouri if that display causes someone to fear property damage or personal injury.
I would note that it’s already a crime in Missouri to place another person in fear of personal injury.
This is just more social legislation forcing people to be nice, even when there seems no particular trouble in Missouri over this issue. Senator Wilson seems to recognize this, but considers this measure essential because Louisiana’s Jena Six trial “raised eyebrows” all across the country.
Even if there were a report of a Missouri noose being displayed (somewhere besides at a rodeo, I mean), more laws are not always the answer. Not every wrong must have a criminal remedy. Who can dispute that a society that resolves to fix every hurt would be a nightmare to live in?
Senator Wilson should also consider that her bill (and its attendant publicity) may be both the cause of–and the remedy for–any future display of nooses. I hope not.
Another difficulty with such prohibitive legislation is that draping a noose over a tree branch is more a symbol than an actual threat. Hate speech, yes, but still more symbol than threat.
One symbol is easily substituted for another, and designating one symbol as a crime will simply generate a new symbol to carry the same bigoted message. In 2004 we outlawed cross-burning. This year, it’s nooses. Next year, perhaps the “Stars & Bars.” After that… we’ll have to see.
Finally, if we want to pass this questionable law, then lets do it right. As written, this bill does not effectively address the real harm it is trying to stop.
A person seeing a noose displayed outdoors in public would hardly feel as threatened as some poor kid who finds a noose stuffed into or hidden inside his gym bag.
Can a noose be both displayed AND hidden at the same time? I suspect not. So if Senator Wilson moves ahead with this bill, it could at least be rewritten to address the larger problem.