Is it possible for a convicted sex offender to be a victim of a hate crime?
I ask this following an incident in Door County over the weekend where two men allegedly set fire to a mobile home because it is owned by a man on the state's Sex Offender Registry. In the criminal complaint, the men explicitly tell investigators that they targeted the man's residence for the arson because they didn't want him around their area. However, the Door County District Attorney is not attaching the hate crime enhancer to the arson and reckless endangerment charges filed against the suspects.
Wisconsin defines a hate crime as taking place when "the victim is selected in whole or part based upon the victim's class, which includes: race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry." In other words, when a victim is selected for what he or she "is". Substitute the word "black", "gay", "transgender", "Jewish" or "Muslim" for "registered sex offender" in the above description of the incident and nearly everyone would agree that setting that fire constituted a hate crime.
One could argue that the state has made convicted sex offenders their own "class" of people. What other segment of the population do we require to inform the Department of Corrections of their current address at all times--under threat of incarceration for failure to do so? What other group of criminals do we dedicate websites to, listing their addresses for public consumption--and providing releases to the media anytime they relocate? What other felon is required to be on GPS monitoring for the rest of their lives--even after completing their sentence and probationary period? Just last week, we had a story on the great lengths the DOC and local police go to make sure that those on the Registry don't hand out candy on Halloween.
And don't think that the hate crime enhancer isn't serious. In felony cases it can add two to six years to a defendant's sentence--and it sends a strong message to the community that violence toward certain segments of the population will not be tolerated. I'm not saying that registered sex offenders are unfairly persecuted--or that they should be the objects of sympathy. But I am saying that when they are specifically targeted for crimes because of what they "are", we shouldn't just shrug our shoulders and accept it as being okay.