I’ve seen some pretty weird Halloween decorations before, but this one probably tops them all. In West Hollywood, California, Chad Michael Morisette has put up an effigy of Sarah Palin hanging by a noose with John McCain up on the chimeny with flames coming out of it (as well as skeletons and spider webs on other areas of the house).
Well, this made some people very unhappy and even sparked an investigation the FBI as well as the Los Angles Police Department.
The LAPD has determined that this doesn’t rise to the level of hate crime (I don’t remember if the FBI has finished its investigation).
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore told reporters, “I’m not defending this; I’m not criticizing it. It doesn’t rise to the level of hate crime. Now, if there was a crime against bad taste–.” When asked about an effigy of Barack Obama, he replied, “That adds a whole other social, historical hate aspect to the display, and that is embedded in the consciousness of the country [but I am not sure that it would be a hate crime]. It would be ill-advised of anybody to speculate on that.”
Morisette claims that it’s all in fun, saying, “It should be seen as art, and as within the month of October. It’s Halloween, it’s time to be scary, it’s time to be spooky.”
The Mayor of West Hollywood, Jeffrey Prang, told reporters, “While these residents have the legal right to display Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin in effigy, I strongly oppose political speech that references violence–real or perceived. I urge these residents to take down their display and find more constructive ways to express their opinion.”
I agree with the Mayor here. The point of a hate crime is that it has to threaten violence, or be violence toward a person because of discrimination (and hate crime isn’t a real legal term, but it’s easier to just say “hate crime”. For the law that defines hate crimes, see U.S. Federal Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 13, § 245). There is no threat of violence here. Now, if this were done of Obama, I would say the same thing. If it’s in a Halloween decoration, it’s generally not intended as a violent threat (as the sheriff’s department found in its investigation). As long as it’s not being done to encourage violence for racist reasons, it’s not a hate crime.
So, I think this was over the line, but it’s still protected as free speech by the First Amendment.