The hue and cry in the aftermath of the Sarah Halimi verdict singled out Kobili Traoré as an anti-Semite while generally ignoring his deadly co-conspirators. Chief among them were mindboggling jurisprudence, antiqued laws, and misogyny. If, as the French Court of Cassation ruled, a mild aphrodisiac was a credible inspiration for murder, it was defiant in its pushback on the role of anger, hatred, and dogma that existed as a motive.
As Halimi fell some forty feet to the courtyard below her apartment, the last thing she would have heard is her killer’s declaration, “Allahu Akbar,” (God is great). That utterance and her Jewish faith led immediately to the conclusion that the murder was an anti-Semitic act. This widely held assumption explains why during the subsequent four years before the court confirmed the real culprit, marijuana induced psychosis, there was little interest in looking into whether Traoré’s divine guidance was any less misogynistic than anti-Semitic. This is surprising given that men in the EU with far less compelling credentials than Traoré had been punished for their treatment of women. One man was convicted for simply saying to a traffic cop that she would be better off doing a job “adapted to women.”
While no one doubts that French public policy’s ham-handedness deserves renewed scrutiny, the fact remains that the drivers of hate crime are complex and nuanced. This however flies in the face of another fact that is black and white. The French do not believe that marijuana is lethal. That is why back in 2019 French President Emmanuel Macron softened France’s draconian marijuana laws. He introduced ‘on the spot’ levies where police officers could issue a fine of €200 ($242) to casual marijuana users. Marijuana was regarded as so innocuous that the penalty for possessing it became less severe than that for smoking it on the metro and throwing the butt onto the train’s floor. In Paris where tolerance for hate crimes seemed to flourish, there was little leniency for criminals who littered and fouled the air.
If it wasn’t hatred hardened by the absence, not the presence of a mental affliction, then it might as well have been chocolate milk that murdered Sarah Halimi. Just like it was hatred that in the late 1970’s that murdered Harvey Milk, the gay San Francisco politician who was also the victim of a hate crime and a strikingly similar miscarriage of justice.
Milk’s assassination underscored the danger of extreme jurisprudence that tolerates hate crime defenses bordering on surreal absurdity. The assassin, a former police officer named Dan White drew a light sentence after arguing that the murder wasn’t hate driven but occurred in part because he had consumed too many of the heavily sugared iconic American cupcakes called Hostess Twinkies. At the time, The New York Times reported that White saw himself as the “defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics.”
As a result of the White case, California law was changed. Californians wanted to protect not only homosexuals but all exposed communities. The new law achieved this by replacing the concept of “diminished capacity” with “diminished actuality.” This change tipped the judicial scales toward the accused’s intent when a violent crime was being adjudicated. Regrettably, even though French legislators have had over four decades since then to grow wiser, abiding by existing law, the high court argued that one is not responsible for his conduct if a “psychic or neuropsychic disturbance… has eliminated all discernment or control,” over his actions, regardless of intent.
Those who decry anti-Semitism should be no less concerned about misogyny, and hate crimes directed at any exposed community. Meanwhile, even though Traoré will not be punished for murder, it is bewildering that the opportunity to convict him for other crimes such as drug use and trafficking have been neglected.
French laws governing the use of marijuana were at the time of the murder quite severe. If in the conduct of one’s work while under the influence, the user, say a hospital orderly, train conductor, or janitor was found to have endangered others, he could have faced a five year prison sentence and a €75,000 ($90,000) fine. Even this sort of prosecution was more weight than the judicial system was prepared to put on Traoré, the professional drug dealer. He is currently ensconced in the relative comfort of a mental institution where he enjoys an unimaginably low standard of accountability.