The Boston Herald spotlights a fascinating criminal case today: Last Sunday, Erika Stroud, 21, her sister Felicia Stroud, 18 (pictured, left), and a third woman, Lydia Sanford (pictured, right), attacked a gay man in a stairwell of a Boston subway station viciously enough to break his nose. Prosecutor Lindsey Weinstein said they repeatedly punched and kicked him "after he bumped them with his backpack." As they beat him, they also "called him insulting homophobic slurs," according to the victim's account, and he told police he believed he was attacked because of his sexual orientation. They were swiftly arraigned yesterday on hate crime charges. But here's the thing: All three identify as lesbians. It's a legal conundrum: Do hate crime laws apply to members of the minorities they seek to protect? City prosecutors and the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU think they do, and are pursuing a charge of assault and battery with intent to intimidate -- a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison. 

“Someone who is Jewish can be anti-Semitic,” said ACLU staff attorney Sarah Wunsch. “The mere fact that someone is a member of the same class doesn’t mean they could not be motivated by hatred for their very own group.” [...]

“The defendants’ particular orientation or alleged orientations have no bearing on our ability to prosecute for allegedly targeting a person who they believe to be different from them,” [Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley] said.

But not everyone sees it that way:

“My guess is that no sane jury would convict them under those circumstances, but what this really demonstrates is the idiocy of the hate-crime legislation,” said civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate. “If you beat someone up, you’re guilty of assault and battery of a human being. Period. The idea of trying to break down human beings into categories is doomed to failure.”

Hate crime laws as we now know them were born on October 29, 2009, when President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the definition of a hate crime to include "crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability." But they have been frequently challenged by the same people they seek to protect, who see the legislation as an increase in power of the penal system, there to make politicians look like heroes without doing anything to actually target the roots of the problem. And all too often, the problems begin in government policy itself. Blackandpink.org has a great compilation of arguments against hate crime legislation.