Who is it OK to hate?
WIth the the vicious hate crime Jamaica and the Buju Banton concert coming on its heels, I haven’t taken time until now to blog about the hate crimes bill that just passed the House.
By 237 to 180, the House voted to include crimes spurred by a victim’s “gender, sexual orientation or gender identity” under the hate-crime designation, which now applies to crimes spurred by the victim?s race, religion, color or national origin.
“The bill is passed,” Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is gay, announced to applause, most of it from Democrats.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, the House vote to include gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity in existing legislation, would have effect of (1) giving the federal government the authority to help investigate bias-motivated attacks based on those three categories, (2) provide additional resources to state and local agencies to help investigate and prosecute these crimes, and (3) allow federal authorities to get involved if local and state authorities fail to or just don’t want to act.
Unfortunately, there was no veto-proof margin in the House vote, and none expected in the Senate, which means that the measure will most likely not pass because Bush is already talking veto.
Under intense pressure from conservative religious organizations to derail the bill, the White House on Thursday called it “unnecessary and constitutionally questionable,” issuing the latest in a string of veto threats aimed at the congressional Democratic majority.
…With Democrats in control, the bill appears certain to reach Bush. But the White House warned in a statement that the president’s “senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
The statement said state and local laws already covered the violence addressed in the legislation. “There has been no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement,” the administration said.
Not surprising from an administration whose approval ratings are now dipping into the 20s. But what’s interesting is the veto promise in the context of the reasons Bush’s right wing support gave for opposing the legislation: They’re afraid they be able to preach hatred and won’t have anyone left to hate. At least, not anyone that it’s OK to hate.
Some bill opponents also say the measure could stifle religious expression. They derided the measure as “thought crimes” legislation, contending that a pastor who preached against homosexuality could be charged with a hate crime if one of his church members committed a hate crime. The bill’s supporters dispute that, saying the measure preserves 1st Amendment rights.
Even less surprising is the news that black ministers were scrambling to get on board the hate bandwagon.
A coalition of conservative African American pastors is lobbying Congress to vote against a bill that would extend federal hate-crimes laws to cover gays, saying they fear it would prevent them from preaching against homosexuality.
Several pastors last week urged House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), a sponsor of the bill, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against the proposed Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
They say it would pin the hate crime label on their sermons against homosexuality, which they consider a sin.
“This bill will offer a status for gays, lesbians and transgender people under the equal protection status that can muzzle the black church,” said Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham and founder of the High Impact Leader Coalition. “This law can be applied in the way that can keep the church from preaching the Gospel.”
The irony is that the bill would allow an agency like the FBI to get involved in cases of bias-related crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity if/when state and local authorities won’t, much like the FBI did when it stepped in to investigate and prosecute the murders of civil rights workers in the south when local and state authorities failed or refused to carry out justice. Even if the murderers weren’t convicted for taking those lives, the federal government could and did charge them with civil rights violations.
The FBI investigated what are now called hate crimes as far back as the 1920s. Our role increased following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Before then, the federal government took the position that protection of civil rights was a local function, not a federal one. However, the murders of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, near Philadelphia, Mississippi, in June 1964 provided the impetus for a visible and sustained federal effort to protect and foster civil rights for African Americans. MIBURN, as the case was called (it stood for Mississippi Burning), became the largest federal investigation ever conducted in Mississippi. On October 20, 1967, seven men were convicted of conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of the slain civil rights workers. All seven were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to ten years.
18 USC 245 (b)(2), enacted in 1969, permits federal prosecution of people who “by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with… any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin and because he is or has been” attempting to engage in one of six types of federally protected activities, such as voting or going to school. Penalties for hate crimes involving firearms are prison terms of up to 10 years, while crimes involving kidnapping, sexual assault, or murder can bring life terms or the death penalty.
Nothing in there about preaching. But, essentially, those black ministers and their white evangelical counterparts want to leave bias-crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity in a post-1964 state. Why, because they’re afraid the won’t be able preach sermons like this one from D.C.’s own Willie Wilson, or this one from D.C.’s Alfred Owens. There’s nothing in either piece of legislation that would cause a minister to be dragged from the pulpit for anti-gay preaching, and anyone who says otherwise is either deluded or engaged in deliberate deceit.
The ministers and the rest who oppose the bill, and will likely cheer the president’s veto don’t have anything more to fear than the Ku Klux Klan, White Aryan Resistance, or any other hate group. They’re still free to spout their hatred; as free as they ever were. There are consequences, as W.A.R and Tom Metzger found out in 1988, if their words include incitement to violence against a particular group, and those words lead to actions by those who received them. But, that’s about it.
What this is about, is when and where federal authorities should be restricted from getting involved when a bias-related crime occurs and local or state authorities either can’t or won’t investigate and prosecute, like southern sheriffs and all-white juries often did decades ago. This is about who deserves justice when they’re attacked or killed because of who they are. It’s about whose lives are worth the effort to get justice and whose lives aren’t.
Basically, it’s about who its still OK to hate. In which case we have but to look at previous hate crime victims and their stories.
January, 2005, three year old Ronnie Antonio Paris died of injuries after being beaten by his father, Ronnie Paris, Jr. Ronnie’s father, Ronnie Paris, Jr., was convicted of second degree murder. News reports give us the impression Ronnie Antonio Paris’ father was trying to make Ronnie Antonio tough and to teach him to fight, because he did not want Ronnie Antonio to grow up to be gay.
The brain trauma Ronnie Antonio received when he was being taught to fight appears to have been too much for his body. News articles indicate he stopped eating, wet himself and went into a coma. He died six days later.
Victims like Steen Keith Fenrich, killed by his step-father because he was gay.
In an ugly suburban drama somewhat reminiscent of dour moods in the film, American Beauty, a 36-year old Long Island man, John Fenrich has killed himself after murdering his 19-year old stepson, Steen Keith Fenrich, and dismembering the boy’s body. Wanda, the teen’s mother, is black. John, his homophobic stepfather, was white.
The murdered youth’s severed skull, found Tuesday, bore racist and anti-gay slurs. It was discovered by a local in a plastic container in a Queens park, along with a foot and some mashed bone fragments.
The elder Fenrich had also carved his stepson’s Social Security number into the boy’s head. Upon hearing that his remains had been discovered, John Fenrich telephoned a TV station, News12 Long Island, early Wednesday morning.
Here’s what was left of Steen Fenrich.
On March 21, 2000, a man walking through Alley Pond Park in Bayside, Queens, found a big blue plastic tub. He opened it, finding an acid-burned skull, a foot bone with flesh on it and other crushed body parts. He took with its grisly contents to stunned Emergency Service Unit officers who happened to be parked nearby.
The skull was scrawled with a Social Security number and a racist and anti-gay slur — on his skull in fact was written with a marker “gay nigger number one”. Police initially suspected the grim find might be the result of an occult killing because the Social Security number included “666.”
Victims like Arthur “J.R.” Warren, killed because he was gay.
Brenda Warren remembers the last time she saw her son, Arthur, as if it were yesterday. J.R., as he was known, went out around 11:30 p.m. to enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks in Grant Town, a hamlet of about 700 in the shadow of the Appalachians in northern West Virginia. As he walked out the door, she reminded him of his 12:30 curfew. When J.R. didn’t return home by 2:30, she went to bed thinking he must have spent the night at a friend’s.
Soon after he left home, Warren apparently came across David Allen Parker and Jared Wilson, 17-year-olds with whom he was acquainted. The boys drove in Parker’s Camaro to an abandoned Grant Town home and began kicking and pummeling Warren there. They then drove Warren, who begged to be taken home, to a deserted stretch of roadway and ran over his body with the car in an attempt to disguise Warren’s massive injuries as a hit-and-run. In a statement to police, Wilson charged that Parker was infuriated by rumors that he was having a sexual relationship with Warren.
Victims like Sakia Gunn, stabbed to death because she was a lesbian. She was just waiting for a bus.
That night, Sakia and her friends traveled from their hometown of Newark, New Jersey to Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. Scores and young queer people of color spend their weekend nights there, where they feel safe and part of a community.
After their evening on the piers, the young group took the train back to Newark. They walked to the bus stop and waited. A large police booth stood at the corner. It was empty.
A white station wagon with two men in it pulled up to the curb. According to one of Sakia?s closest friends, Valencia, the men started harassing the girls and asking them to come closer. The girls said no, they weren?t interested. They explained they were gay.
One of the men got out of the car. He attacked the girls, holding one of them in a choke-hold. Sakia and Valencia started fighting him. Sakia hit him. Then he stabbed her in the chest.
The man ran back to his car and sped away. The girls raced to a car that had stopped at a red light and asked the driver to take them to the hospital. He did. Sakia died in her friend Valencia?s arms in the emergency room.
Victims like Gwen Aurujo. She was killed by men who discovered she was transgendered, after having had sex with her.
At the party on (October 3, 2002) it was discovered, by forced inspection (conducted by a young woman at the party), that Araujo had male genitalia. In an explosion of activity, the men that she had sexual relations with became extremely agitated. Once it was discovered that Gwen Araujo was biologically male, Mike Magidson began choking her in the hallway of the house. At this point numerous guests left the residence. Jose Merel and Jaron Nabors remained inside the residence with Mike Magidson. Jason Cazares claimed to go outside at this point, however he did not leave because he had arrived in Mike Magidson’s truck. Once everyone left, the three assailants began assaulting Araujo. Jose Merel struck her over the head with a frying pan and then struck again with a can of tomatoes, causing a gash to her head which bled profusely. Jaron Nabors struck her with a barbell weight. Mike Magidson kneed her in the head against the living room wall. The blow was so forceful that her head caused an indentation in the plaster wall. After some time in the living room, Araujo was then taken to the garage of the home, where she was strangled by a rope (stories conflict as to whether Mike Magidson or Jaron Nabors strangled the victim). Most accounts have Jose Merel cleaning blood out of the carpet at the time she was strangled. She was then hog-tied, wrapped in a blanket and placed in the bed of a pick-up truck. The three assailants, plus Jason Cazares drove her body to parkland in El Dorado County, California, a wooded area in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada known as Silver Fork, where she was finally buried in a shallow grave. It is not clear at what point during this sequence of events Araujo’s death occurred. However the autopsy showed that she died from strangulation associated with blunt force trauma to the head.
Victims like Tyra Hunter. She died as a result of injuries after being in an automobile accident. When EMTs cut open her close to treat her wounds, and discovered she was transgendered, they stood back and laughed instead of delivering treatment.
On Aug. 7, a routine car accident in Washington, D.C., turned into a demonstration of intolerance and disrespect for human life. Tyra Hunter was a passenger in a car when it was broadsided by another car at a four-way stop. When fire department personnel arrived at the scene Tyra and the driver had been pulled from the car and were lying on the ground. As a crowd gathered, a male firefighter began treating Tyra for her injuries. That is, until he cut open her pants leg and noticed she had male genitalia. Tyra was a male-to-female transsexual.
At that point, according to eye witnesses, the firefighter stood up and backed away from Tyra, who was semi-conscious and gasping for breath. One witness quoted him as saying, “this ain’t no bitch,” as he began joking with the other fire department personnel at the scene. Another witness at the scene heard one of the firefighters say, “look, it’s got a cock and balls.” While the firefighters stood around making jokes about her, Tyra’s treatment was discontinued temporarily.
People at the scene, frustrated with the firefighters’ behavior, began shouting for them to help Tyra. Finally, some other firefighters went to work at treating her injuries. She later was transported to D . C . General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Victims like Brandon Teena; beaten, raped, questioned by an unsympathetic sheriff, and then killed by the two male acquaintances who’d beaten and raped him.
Teena’s forced outing caused a stir in the small town. His girlfriend, Lana, however, did not react negatively to the news, and in fact bailed him out of jail. Nevertheless, some of Lana’s male friends who had become close to Teena were shocked and angered by the disclosure.
Two of those friends, 22-year-old John Lotter (an ex-boyfriend of Lana’s) and 21-year-old Tom Nissen, violently confronted Teena at a Christmas Eve party and pulled down his pants in order to humiliate him in front of Lana. Later that night, after getting him alone, Lotter and Nissen raped and severely beat Teena. They also threatened to kill him if he reported what they had done to him.
After escaping from the two men, Teena nevertheless immediately made his way to the police and reported the attack. Lotter and Nissen were brought in for questioning, but subsequently released, with no arrests having been made.
One week later, on New Year’s Eve, Lotter and Nissen decided to track Teena down. They discovered him at the remote farmhouse of Lisa Lambert, with whom he had been staying. Lotter and Nissen murdered Teena by shooting and stabbing him; they also killed Lambert and another houseguest, Phillip DeVine.
Victims like Paul Broussard. He ws 27 years old when he was killed.
On the night of July 4, 1991, Paul Broussard, a 27-year-old gay banker in Houston, and two of his friends, Cary Anderson and Richard Delaunay, were assaulted as they traversed a parking lot in the Montrose area. Their assailants were 10 youths from the Woodlands, an upscale suburb north of Houston. The boys (all but three were only 17, the eldest was 22) had been cruising the Montrose area earlier that evening, harassing those they presumed gay by throwing rocks at them. With their “queer rocks” as they called them, they had already smashed the windshield of a car and hit a passing man in the mouth. When the attackers encountered the three men, they began by asking for the directions to Heaven, a nearby gay nightclub. Upon being told the directions, the boys leapt out of their two cars and assaulted Broussard and his friends with fists, steel-toed boots, two-by-fours studded with nails, and at least one knife. Broussard?s two friends, Delaunay and Anderson, although injured, managed to escape. Broussard, however, was trapped and subjected to a vicious beating.
As they assaulted Broussard, according to Delaunay, the boys were cheering and yelling wildly, roaring like the crowd in a football game. “We were the football,” as Delaunay later said. In the end Paul Broussard suffered multiple cuts and abrasions, a puncture by a nail driven through a board, a broken rib, bruised testicles, three stab wounds?and death. As he lay almost unconscious on the ground with his hand raised as if pleading for mercy or for help, two of the assailants rifled his pockets and took his comb as a “souvenir.” Then the boys drove off, still yelling and cheering. As they returned to the Woodlands going north up I-45, the two carloads of assailants drove side-by-side down the highway, leaning out of the windows and slapping palms together in noisy “high-fives.” They capped off the evening with a pre-dawn breakfast at a Denny?s restaurant. According to later depositions, it was at the Denny?s that Jon Buice showed a knife to some of the others, and bragged that with it he had “stuck the queer.”
After being treated by EMS on the spot, Paul Broussard was transported to St. Joseph?s Hospital. Although medical and hospital staff did all they could to save his life, in the end the bleeding from the wounds could not be stemmed. Broussard died in the hospital an agonizing eight-and-a-half hours later.
Victims like Fred Martinez, just 16 when he was killed.
On June 21, Fred Martinez, Jr., a 16-year-old, Native American high school student – who described himself as openly gay and “two-spirit” – was found beaten to death on June 21st. The badly decomposed body of 16-year-old Fred Martinez Jr. was found near the sewer ponds south of Cortez by two young boys who were playing in the area. Martinez’s body had been there nearly a week. Autopsy results suggest Martinez had been bludgeoned.
Two-Spirit is a term used by some Native Americans to describe a person who embraces a gender identity that differs from his or her biological sex and/or a person who is attracted to members of the same sex. The term, which may be defined or used differently by various Native Americans, stems from a traditional belief that some people have two spirits, embodying both male and female gender identities.
…Fred Martinez was last seen at his home on June 16 and reportedly had said he was going to the carnival at the Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo. He never returned home.
Police did not contact his mother, Pauline Mitchell, until June 25th despite repeated calls to their office reporting her son missing. On July 3rd, Shaun Murphy, 18, was arrested and has been charged with second-degree murder and police were told that Murphy had bragged to a friend that “he had beat up a fag.”
Victims like Michael Sandy. Just last year, he was killed while running from an attack by thee men who were luring gay men in to meeting in order to beat and rob them.
Michael Sandy, 29, logged onto the Internet Sunday night, Oct. 8, and got lucky — he met someone. A guy who went by the screen name “Fireyefox” asked him to meet in a parking lot in Plum Beach, Brooklyn.
Only Sandy wasn?t lucky. It was a setup. A group of young men allegedly planned to rob Sandy. They beat him and chased him into nearby traffic on the Belt Parkway, according to reports, where he was struck by a car. The driver did not stop. And the assailants beat Sandy again along the side of the road.
Sandy, a gay African American, was hospitalized in critical condition until Friday, Oct. 13, when his family took him off life support and he died.
Victims like Dwan Prince, who was gay bashed so violently that he remained in a prolonged coma afterwards, and suffered handicaps related to his beating after recovering from his coma.
The victim of a vicious gay hate crime has been unable to tell the police about his attack because he remains unconscious. Brooklyn resident Dwan Prince was severely beaten last week as he was taking out the garbage from his apartment.
According to published reports and eyewitnesses, three men in a black sedan car beat Prince. They were apparently yelling anti-gay epithets as they pummeled him. “It was pretty brutal”, said Clarence Patton, acting executive director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
The attack occurred in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn at the corner of East 94 Street and Kings Highway last Wednesday night. As reported by several news outlets, Prince was taking the trash out before midnight. The three men jumped from the car and allegedly started beating him. They left Prince on the ground and returned soon after to beat him more.
“Nobody saw the first attack,” Anthony David told the New York Post. “When they came back he was already unconscious on the floor, then they started kicking and stomping him.”
Witnesses tried to come to Prince’s aid, but the attackers kept them at bay. They reportedly were calling the victim a ?faggot? as they continued to beat him. After kicking Prince in the head, the three suspects ran off.
Victims like Billy Jack Gaither. He was beaten, his throat cut, and his body burned by people he knew.
On February 19, 1999, Billy Jack Gaither, a thirty-nine-year-old gay man who worked at the Russell Athletics apparel company near Sylacauga, Alabama, was brutally beaten to death. His throat was cut, and his body was bludgeoned with an ax handle before being thrown on top of a pile of tires and set on fire. In the weeks following the killing, two men came forward to police as the killers: Steven Mullins and Charles Monroe Butler. Butler, the younger of the two, came forward to police first. He described the night of the murder in great detail: how he had never heard of Billy Jack Gaither prior to the night of the killing; how his friend Steve Mullins found him at a bar playing pool and asked him to take a ride into the woods with himself and Billy Jack; how Billy Jack started “talking queer stuff” that set off a violent reaction in Butler; and then how he stood by as Mullins beat Billy Jack to death. In June of 1999, Steven Mullins pled guilty to capital murder; Butler stood trial and was found guilty of the same charge by a jury. In August of 1999, both Mullins and Butler were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Victims like Barry Winchell.
But Winchell’s life ended violently last month, not on a battlefield somewhere but in his barracks at Fort Campbell, where he was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat.
Army prosecutors say he was murdered by a soldier in his platoon. But gay rights advocates say suggestions that hatred for homosexuals may have played a role reveals something larger about the military itself.
“Clearly, anti-gay harassment has been a huge problem with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue,'”‘ C. Dixon Osburn, co-executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said Wednesday. “Each year, the reports of anti-gay harassment from verbal gay bashing on to death threats have increased.”
Victims Like Alan Schindler.
Allen R. Schindler Jr., 22, of Chicago Heights, Ill., was serving as a radioman on the amphibious assault ship “U.S.S. Belleau Wood,” in the Navy in Okinawa, Japan. He was brutally murdered on October 27, 1992 by two shipmates in a toilet in a park in Sasebo, one being Airman Apprentice Terry M. Helvey, 21. Helvey beat and stomped Schindler to death because Schindler was gay. Helvey’s attack was so vicious that he destroyed every organ in Schindler’s body. Schindler was so badly beaten that he could hardly be identified afterward. Schindler’s mother, Dorothy Hajdys-Holman, could only identify her son by the remains of a tattoo on his arm. The medical examiner compared Schindler’s injuries to those sustained by victims of fatal airplane crashes.
Victims like Danny Overstreet.
Overstreet also had a sexual orientation that cost him his life.
He was gay.
For that, an angry stranger sentenced him to death.
A burst of gunfire at a dimly lit Salem Avenue bar struck seven people.
Overstreet, closest to the gunman, took a bullet in his chest. The 43-year-old crumpled to the floor of the Backstreet Cafe.
Victims like Kevin Aviance, who was gay bashed in New York last year, and had to be hospitalized because of his injuries.
According to a felony complaint filed by prosecutors, the men followed Aviance, called him derogatory names and threw two garbage bags and a paint can at the singer before surrounding and attacking him.
Four young men suspected of beating a recording artist while yelling anti-gay slurs were arraigned on assault charges, but did not enter a plea.
They are accused of chasing and jumping Kevin Aviance, 38, at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday in the city?s East Village.
…Len Evans, Aviance‘s publicist, said the singer could hear passers-by yelling at the attackers to stop.
Aviance suffered a broken jaw, bruised knee and other injuries, the complaint said.
James Maestas, 21, and his partner Joshua Stockham 24, of Albuquerque had just finished lunch with several female friends at a Santa Fe restaurant and had gone outside for a smoke when five men drove into the parking lot. The men attempted to talk up the girls and at some point got into an argument with Maestas and Stockham.
A police statement says that the argument escalated with one of the men calling Maestas and Stockham “faggots” and trying to provoke a fight.
Stockham, Maestas and the females got into a car and began driving away. The men then began throwing rocks at the car according to the statement said.
It didn’t end there. Maestas was severely beaten and left in a coma.
Maestas apparently was kicked so hard the food in his stomach came up his throat and went into his lungs, Rosen said. Stomach acid badly burned his lungs, she said, and he is breathing with the help of a respirator.
He has been running a fever and must be monitored closely, because the risk of infection is high, Rosen said.
Maestas’ face and mouth are bruised and swollen, she said. “They haven’t even been able to see if he has all his lower teeth because his lower lip is so mangled.”
While a brain scan didn’t reveal any damage, she said, it’s too early to tell for sure. Maestas has not regained consciousness, and doctors are keeping him sedated, she said.
Doctors don’t know whether he will suffer permanent damage from the attack if he pulls through, Rosen said.
Maestas pulled through, but two of his attackers only got 90 days because the judge didn’t want to “ruin” them.
State District Judge Michael Vigil declined Friday to send the two men most culpable in the beating of two gay men last year to the state penitentiary.
“You both would be ruined if I sent you to prison,” Vigil told Isaia Medina, 20, and Gabriel Maturin, 21. “I would be throwing you away. I don’t want to do that.”
Instead, Vigil sentenced Medina and Maturin to 90 days in the Santa Fe County jail, followed by a year of house arrest during which they will have to spend weekends in jail. After that, each man will spend five years on probation and have to perform 500 hours of community service, which will include completing a curriculum on tolerance, talking to high school and college students about tolerance and working with the group, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Some victims are nameless and faceless, except to those who know and love them.
The woman said she and the gay man left the party and had walked halfway down the driveway before the others caught them, knocked them to the ground and took them to an adjoining yard that contained “several large barking dogs,” the warrant says. Smith told them they should get ready to be thrown to the dogs, but instead he and others took them to the camper parked in the mobile home?s front yard, the warrant states.
While some of the partygoers tied up the gay man with rope and began hitting him, “Uriah told them that this was a kidnapping and they were not going to die yet,” according to the warrant. A female from the party lifted the woman’s head and kicked her in the face, the warrant says. The woman said she felt her nose break, the warrant says.
“(The woman) was not tied up, but was held in the camper for most of the night while all of the male subjects kept hitting, kicking, slapping and knocking (the gay man) down,” the warrant states. “The male subjects would knock (the gay man) down and if he did not get up off of the ground within a certain count or if he would make any noise, they would jump on him, hitting and kicking him.”
“This continued all night until the sun was about to come up.”
And, of course, victims like Matthew Shepard. His murder is perhaps the most well known example of an anti-gay hate crime, and the first to come to mind. The bill passed in the House even bears his name. But I wanted to focus on other stories in this post, to show the breadth and diversity of the victims and their stories.
Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, and Joe Solomnese make a good point that not all crimes are based on hatred.
Every act of violence is tragic and harmful in its consequences, but not all crime is based on hate. A bias-motivated crime affects not only the victim and his or her family but an entire community or category of people and their families.
The current federal hate-crimes law, enacted nearly 40 years ago, covers only bias attacks based on race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion. In the case of a hate crime based on sexual orientation or gender identity, our government?s hands are tied: It doesn?t have the authority to go after perpetrators of anti-LGBT violent crime. It?s time to update the law to protect everyone.
How does it affect an entire category of people? It sends a message much like the one sent by the recent homophobic violence in Jamaica, and summed up rather effectively by a a commenter on my post about the beating.
Get this straight. Gay life is not new to Jamaica. What we will not tolerate is anyone promoting this nastiness as normal. Just as it is not normal for human beings and animals to mate, the same applies.
There are several prominent, rich and poor fags in jamaica who have never been beaten all because they know their place.
We will never accept it as a normal way of life. Keep your closets in your homes. It is clear that homosexuals dont want kids, so do not influence my children with your nastiness.
So anyone who flaunts it then we apply – Batty bwoy fi dead – Memba dat!
It’s a message effectively delivered by a Jamaican public defender. In that sense, hate crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity are meant to send a message to entire communities in the same way the Klan’s “night rides” were meant to intimidate people and send a message: know your place or this can happen to you too.
And, as was the case 40 years ago and over 200 years ago, if the local and state authorities couldn’t or wouldn’t go after perpetrators of hate crimes, there wasn’t much the federal authorities could do. How often did all white juries acquit obviously guilty defendants for murdering blacks? How often did local and state law enforcement look the other way until the federal government got the authority to step in?
What gave them that authority? Civil rights. Federal authorities are empowered to take on cases in which civil rights are violated. Up until then, the groups targeted didn’t have any recognized civl rights. They were less than full citizens, and their lives were less valuable. It wasn’t necessary to punish perpetrators because it wasn’t necessary to treat the victim’s lives as though they were equal in worth to those of actual citizens; citizens who enjoyed legally protected civil rights.
Forty years later, the Bush White House says it’s not “necessary” to bring the full weight of justice to bear in the cases of victims I’ve just named.
Under intense pressure from conservative religious organizations to derail the bill, the White House on Thursday called it “unnecessary and constitutionally questionable,” issuing the latest in a string of veto threats aimed at the congressional Democratic majority.
…The statement said state and local laws already covered the violence addressed in the legislation. “There has been no persuasive demonstration of any need to federalize such a potentially large range of violent crime enforcement,” the administration said.
Forty years ago, if state and local authorities chose to ignore state and local laws — say, the next time a local black was lynched — the federal government’s hands were tied. Forty years later the Bush administration is preemptively tightening the ropes for the next (inevitable) time someone is attacked or killed because of their gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. So, the federal government’s hands will remain tied, even if state and local authorities choose to sit on theirs, or use them to further victimize.
And I’ve said all this to finally ask a few questions. It only took so long because first I needed to show the victims and tell their stories before I could ask. Are the crimes committed against these victims any less hate-motivated than crimes based on race, religion, color or national origin? Among these victims, whose case should receive less of the full resources of law enforcement than other victims attacked because of their race, religion, color or national origin? Among these victims, who is less deserving of justice than victims attacked because of their race, religion, color or national origin?
Among these victims, who’s life is worth less than anyone else’s? Among these victims, whose murder or injury is it OK to ignore?
Among these victims, who is it OK to hate?