Not all crimes are about physical injury to people. Some, like malicious destruction of property, have to do with physical injury to things. In fact, said injury does not even have to be permanent.
Take the crime of defacing property with graffiti, for example. It may surprise you to know that, in general, such crimes are actually prosecuted. It will probably not surprise you, though, to learn that certain graffiti will bring prosecution.
And not simply for the “tagging” of the property either.
Such graffiti can actually be considered harassment. It can also be considered a Massachusetts hate crime.
Take recent developments at Wheaton College, in Norton, where a criminal investigation is currently ongoing. Authorities are investigating anti-Semitic graffiti found morning on a residence for Jewish students.
According to school President Ronald A. Crutcher, “Crude and hateful graffiti” was found on the back door of the Jewish Life House at 17 Howard Street. Students at the house have reported being targeted before, including derogatory remarks shouted from the street as recently as Friday evening.
“I want to be clear: this will not be tolerated,” Crutcher has said. “Wheaton is committed to appreciating, understanding and celebrating diversity. Every individual–student, faculty and staff member–has the right to feel welcomed and safe on our campus and in our community.”
Campus police and Norton police are investigating according to Michael Graca, spokesman for the College.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Hate Crimes
It’s kind of ironic that this story is taking place today, a day when we remember all those who have served in our armed forces in an effort to preserve our way of life. You know, tolerance and respect for all walks of life…that kind of stuff.
In any case, we have discussed many times that our First Amendment freedoms concerning free speech are not absolute. For example, you can be arrested for inciting a riot. You cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre (unless, perhaps, if there really is one) and you cannot deface property…particularly when you are doing so with hate speech.
Hate speech itself IS actually protected…but it has to be under appropriate circumstances. For example, you have probably read stories about demonstrations or marches put on by Nazis or the Klu Klux Klan. Such groups do have the right , if otherwise following the law, to voice their opinions. However, while carrying signs decrying the “Jewish Devil” or “Non-human Black” might be legal…planting those signs on someone’s lawn, or burning a cross thereupon, is not.
In this case, the property that has been defaced with the garbage of hatred does not belong to the graffiti “artist”. It belongs to the school. Further, it is designed to incite and, in fact, threaten. It is, for a variety of reasons, illegal.
“Does the Commonwealth really prosecute cases of graffiti, Sam?”
Yes, the do. Clearly in cases like this, where the message is hate speech. However, they will also prosecute cases of simply typical graffiti, such as “Mary Loves Paul” or “Go Patriots!”
Obliviously, though, these cases are not treat as harshly as those involving hate speech.
In this case, particularly since it took place on school property, the ramifications for the spewed hatred goes beyond the criminal justice system. Under these circumstances, if a student is involved, suspension or expulsion may also be the result.
Happy Veteran’s Day!
For the original story upon which this blog was based, please go to /www.boston.com/metrodesk/2012/11/11/authorities-investigate-anti-semitic-graffiti-jewish-students-residence-wheaton-college/MtJDT4Q71T4lHE2hlNHRYM/story.html