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Police have identified the woman alleged to have pushed an unsuspecting victim off a Subway platform in Queens, New York, last week. Erika Menendez shoved Sunando Sen  to his death believing that he was Muslim or Hindu, a Queens district attorney said.

Menendez  admitted to the crime, revealing her deep hatred for Muslims and Hindus in a statement to authorities. “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up,” she said.

Sen was born in India, and was raised Hindu.

“The defendant is accused of committing what is every subway commuter’s nightmare: Being suddenly and senselessly pushed into the path of an oncoming train,” stated Queens DA Richard A. Brown.  “It will be up to the court to determine if she is fit to stand trial.”

Despite the admission, not everyone thinks that Menendez—who is believed to be mentally ill— should be charged with a hate crime.

From the New York Daily News:

If religious hatred and ethnic bias played a part in Menendez (who is also pretty clearly suffering from serious mental illness) killing Sen, then we should consider her actions a hate crime to draw attention to the often infectious and dangerous consequences of discrimination in our society.

But charging Menendez with a hate crime under the penal code, as Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has already done? That results in more harm than good for all of us.

There are two justifications for enhanced sentencing under hate crime laws in America, including the hate crime laws on the books in New York State.

The first is deterrence — that the existence of hate crime statutes will dissuade potential perpetrators from acting on their bias with violence. But if tough sentencing were generally an effective deterrent to crime, we would expect that states with the death penalty (the strongest deterrent of all, supporters say) have lower crime rates than states without the death penalty.

In fact, the opposite is true — states that do not have the death penalty have had consistently lower homicide rates for the past 20 years compared with states that do have the death penalty.

Similarly, in the case of California’s “three strikes” law imposing harsh minimum sentences for repeat offenders, research found that the enhanced sentencing law had no deterrent effect on crime.

Furthermore, what sentencing enhancements mean is longer prison terms that, according to other studies, actually increase rates of recidivism after release. So enhanced sentencing may drive up rates of crime instead of making us safer.

The other justification for imposing harsher penalties under hate crime laws is largely symbolic, sending a message to offenders and the public that we as a society will not tolerate discrimination whether based on gender, sexual orientation, race or religious creed.

Aside from the hate crime, Menendez was also charged with second-degree murder. If convicted she faces life in prison.

Sen is the second person to die from being pushed in front of a New York Subway train during the month of December. The first was Ki Suk Han of Queens. He was pushed after approaching another man, and was photographed unsuccessfully trying to climb to safety.


Photo: New York Times