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A Hate Crimes Round-Up

I know my vacation ended a couple of days ago, but I'm still catching up on everything that happened in the world while I was semi-unplugged (because I'm too much of an addict to every unplug completely). So, please pardon the lack of new posts today. I've got a few in the works that will hopefully see the light of day tomorrow. In the meantime, there's a lot of stuff that I'd like to blog about at length, but I don't want to wait that long before linking to some of the great stuff I've been reading as I catch  up with the rest of the world. In the meantime.

 Jim Burroway notes over at Box Turtle Bulletin that the hate crimes bill is up for a vote in the Senate. He recounts the right wing's attempts to dodge the truth about the bill and goes so far as to post the text of it on his blog.

We saw them completely make up bogus hate crime statistics out of thin air to try to prove that gays and lesbians aren’t hate crime victims. But they won’t tell you that sexual orientation is the third most common motivation for hate crimes, running a virtual tie with religious bias. Further, the Justice Department’s National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) shows that 58% of hate crimes based on sexual orientation go unreported.

We saw them falsely claim that the legislation would “punish some crimes more severely against gay people than they would against any other person,” even though it would cover everyone – gay or straight — regardless of sexual orientation. Otherwise, the FBI’s own hate crime statistics would not have bothered to count 935 anti-White, 58 anti-Protestant, or 23 anti-heterosexual hate crime incidents in 2005.

We saw them falsely claim that the bill would create a class of “thought crimes,” even though the proposed legislation only deals strictly with actual violence or direct and credible threats to violence.

…Well, last month, I challenged opponents of the hate crimes legislation to post the text of the bill on their web sites and show where it threatens their their speech or religious freedoms, or elevates one citizen’s protection over another’s under the law. Nobody has taken me up on the challenge — and they won’t either. Because if they did, you’d be able to read the bill for yourself and know that everything they’ve been saying about it is a complete lie.

One of the stories that stayed on my mind during the cruise was the story of David Ritcheson, the young man who endured a brutal hate crime with homophobic overtones, who committed recently committed suicide by jumping to his death while on a cruise to Mexico.

Ritcheson, a popular football player and onetime freshman homecoming prince, endured one of the most brutal hate-crime attacks in recent history. It began one evening in April 2006, when he went out with a new acquaintance, Gus Sons, whom he’d met at an alternative school (Ritcheson had been sent there for fighting at Klein Collins High School in Spring, Texas). The two went to a crawfish festival and then returned to Sons’s house with some other boys Ritcheson met for the first time that night to drink vodka and snort cocaine. Among them was David Henry Tuck, a notorious skinhead who terrorized his neighbors with “Heil, Hitler” salutes, once broke the bones of a 51-year-old Hispanic man at a gas station and was locked up in a juvenile detention center for kicking a sheriff’s deputy.

At some point, an argument started. The reason remains unclear—perhaps because Ritcheson had stolen some of Sons’s drugs, perhaps because he made a drunken pass at Sons’s little sister (if the attackers’ accounts can be believed), perhaps for no other reason than that Ritcheson is Mexican-American. Tuck knocked Ritcheson unconscious with one crack that broke his jaw, the ER physician who treated him said in court. Then Tuck and his sidekick, Keith Robert Turner, spent the next several hours beating and torturing Ritcheson while shouting “White power!” according to court testimony. They stripped him, burned his skin with cigarettes, poured bleach on his wounds, rammed the end of a patio umbrella into his anus and kicked it with steel-toed boots deep enough to rupture his internal organs, according to witness testimony. They started to carve a swastika in his chest, but some of the onlookers thought that was going too far. Ritcheson told members of Congress that God had spared him the memory of what happened that night, but “today I still bear that scar on my chest like a scarlet letter.” Tuck and Turner, who pleaded not guilty, were convicted of aggravated sexual assault; Tuck received a life sentence, while Turner received a 90-year sentence.

It's a story that brings to mind the ongoing consequences of hate crimes, and in particular how anti-gay or homophobia-driven hate crimes can impact people who aren't necessarily gay or lesbian. Tthe first time I heard it I wondered aloud whether Ritcheson's attackers should be brought up on murder charges, given that their attack on him definitely contributed to his suicide. Not being a lawyer, I can only guess that it might be difficult to make such a case. But to my mind, Sons and Tucker killed Ritcheson almost as certainly as if they'd pushed him overboard.

Meanwhile, XicanoPwr reports on another hatecrime beating with racist and anti-gay overtones.

One of my sister’s co-workers, Satendar Singh, was killed in a hate crime attack last week at Lake Natomas. He was at a party with some friends and family when a group from a Russian church started calling him racist and homophobic names, harassing him and his whole party for most of the day.

As his party started to leave, a group of them cornered him and they got into a physical fight. One of them shoved Satendar and he fell and cracked his skull. He was declared braindead when he arrived at the hospital. A few days later, his aunt and uncle had to take him off of life support. His parents, who live in Fiji, were unable to get a visa in time to visit.

As XicanoPwr notes, that Singh's attackers didn't know he was gay, but presumed he was based on what their observations.

Witnesses reported that his attackers targeted Singh because a group of fundamentalists didn’t like what they were seeing. They had noticed he was the only one at the picnic without a date and was displaying unmanly physical affections towards other men as he hugged and danced with the men from his party. This type of behavior was not only unAmerican, but also unchristian and immoral.

The Sacramento Bee initially reported that his friends told reporters that he was not gay, however, as the story unfolded, family members told Nathan Feldman of Sacramento’s “Being Gay Today” cable-access show, that “they knew of Satendar Singh’s sexual orientation, and that it had never interfered with their deep love for him.” The assault started when his attackers started hurling explicit homophobic slurs and racist remarks at him and his party. Things escalated when the attackers called for backup.

Singh and his friends tried to leave, however, they were blocked as soon as the Slavic’s group backup arrived. Once the fight ensued, one of the men struck Singh in the face hard enough knocking him unconscious and causing him to fall backwards and crack his head, which ruptured part of the brain stem that controls most of life’s functions. He died four days later at Mercy San Juan hospital.

Blabbeando also notes a gay man was killed in Mexico in what may have been an anti-gay hate crime, after being denied refugee status in Canada.

Mexican gay man killed: Canadian gay weekly X-tra is reporting that a Mexican gay man who was denied refugee status in Canada four years ago – and had no option but to go back to the country he said he feared – was found shot to death in his Mexican apartment on April 7th of this year.

According to the article, Mexican authorities believe the murder of 35 year old Enrique Villegas (pictured) was drug-related but friends of Villegas in Vancouver say that this is unlikely because he was clean as a whistle and didn't even smoke cigarettes while he lived in Canada. They also believe that he might have been killed by a homeless person Villegas had taken under his wing who might have taken advantage of Villegas because he was gay.

Villegas was not alone, as the Washington Post reported that gays and lesbians persecuted in their own countries are seeking asylum in the U.S.

Harassment and abuse of gay men and lesbians is becoming increasingly accepted as grounds for legal asylum in the United States, even at a time of conservative judicial activism, fear about HIV/AIDS transmission and increased scrutiny of asylum seekers. The government does not disclose a breakdown of reasons for granting asylum petitions, but legal advocacy groups in several major U.S. cities said they have won dozens of cases.

Homosexuality, once a de facto condition for barring foreigners from entering the country, is now officially recognized by the U.S. government as a category that might subject individuals to persecution in their homeland, just as if they were political dissidents in a dictatorship or religious minority members in a theocracy.

…Even in societies with freewheeling, tolerant urban cultures, homosexuals can be harassed to the point of seeking refuge abroad. Brazil, for example, has a huge population of gays and transvestites, and last month's annual gay pride festival in Sao Paolo drew 3 million people, according to Gay Life, a Baltimore newspaper.

Along those same lines, Pam notes that lesbian murders are on the rise in South Africa's black townships.

Marriage equality may exist in South Africa, but it doesn't mean you're not taking your life into your hands if someone knows you are gay.

Black townships are rife with violence against women generally, but there is a special ire toward lesbians, according to activists there. Two women, one a gay activist, were brutally murdered after being tortured.  No arrests have been made.

The Women of Color Blog links to two posts on Black Looks concerning the murders.

Last Sunday two more South African lesbians were brutally raped and murdered in Medowlands, Soweto. Sizakele Sigasa, lesbian activist and outreach worker with the Positive Women’s Network (PWN), and her friend, Salome Masooa, were first tortured and then murdered.

…Their rape and murders are part of a continuing and growing epidemic of hate crimes against lesbians. In June, Simangele Nhlapho , a member of a support group for women living with HIV run by PWN, was, along with her two year old daughter, raped and murdered. Her daughter’s legs were also broken. In April this year, 16 year-old Madoe Mafubedu, was raped and repeatedly stabbed until she died. There have been no arrests for any of these crimes and other sexual assault cases, all documented, against lesbians particularly Black lesbians in the townships. These hate crimes are part of the endemic misogyny and homophobia as well as the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS in South Africa that is destroying lives. Women comprise 58% of those living with HIV. The cause are many and complex….

Closer to home, Dana over at Mombian posts a plea from Matthew Shepard's father to urge the Senate to pass the hate crimes bill named for his son this week.

All of us – gay and straight alike – need to act. Hate affects each and every one of us. It knows no limits, follows no clear set of rules, and has infiltrated our society’s most basic institutions. For that reason, I am humbled that the United States House of Representatives has chosen to act, and to do so in Matt’s memory, and the United States Senate is poised to follow. They are now taking the first giant steps in making the Matthew Shepard Act the law of our land.

The legislation is simple: to protect people from being attacked, beaten, brutalized, and murdered because of who they are. It’s a necessary, measured response to the consequences of hate that took my son away from me and has taken far too many other Americans from those who loved them.

Americans like Edgar Garzon who, Queerty reminds us, was killed in an anti-gay attack in 2001, and his mother Leonor Garzon who wept as she testified against his killer in court.

A weeping mother yesterday took the stand against the man accused of beating her son to death – a murder sparked by the gay theater-set designer flirting with his killer on a Jackson Heights street, prosecutors charged.

The elderly woman told jurors in Queens Supreme Court that her son, Edgar Garzon, was beaten so badly that he looked like a “monster” when she saw him at the hospital after the August 2001 attack.

“I did not recognize my son,” Leonor Garzon, 70, told jurors.

“His face had no shape. He was all purple and blue. What I saw was monstrous. I couldn't believe it. I was afraid to kiss him.”

Beaten into a coma, the 35-year-old victim died a few days later.

Americans like Aaron “Shorty” Hall.

The victim in this new outrage wasn't called Aaron 'Shorty' Hall for nothing. Shorty was 5-foot-4 and weighed a mere 100 pounds. In beefy rural Indiana, that passes for almost invisible.

On April 12, Shorty was allegedly beaten to death by Coleman King, 18, and Garrett Gray, 19. They subsequently confessed to police that the beating began when Shorty allegedly made a gay pass at them while they were all drinking beer at Gray's home.

The description of what happened next is horrific, a savage assault that eerily echoes the tortuous death of Matthew Shepard. This time it took the form of a relentless beating that went on for several hours at Gray's house before Shorty was finally dragged down the wooden stairs, his head banging loudly on each step.

King and Gray told cops they beat Hall again at the bottom of the stairs, threw him into a pickup truck and continued beating him as they drove down a remote dirt road.

Once there, one of them had the audacity to send a friend a cellphone photo of the dying Shorty. Then they dumped him, naked but still alive, in a ditch. According to weather reports, it was 39 degrees that night.

The next morning they returned and found Shorty's broken and lifeless body in a field near the ditch. He had apparently crawled out for help, found none, and died alone in the dirt.

A few days later they returned, wrapped the body in a tarp and hid it in Gray's garage, where police found it after being alerted by the recipient of the cellphone photo.

In Hall's case, there's some speculation that he may not have been gay and may not have made a pass at his killers, who may have cooked up the story believing that it would help them get away with murder in one of five states that refuses to enact hate crimes legislation because it might cover anti-gay hate crimes too.

Or Americans like Roberto Duncanson, whose killer — Jasmyne reminds us — prefaced his attack by asking “What are you looking at, fucker?” when he thought Duncanson was flirting with him.

A 17-year-old held in the stabbing death of a Brooklyn man plunged a knife into the victim's back because he was gay, authorities said yesterday.

An indictment filed yesterday added a hate-crime rap to the murder charge against Omar Willock – crimes punishable by life in prison.

Willock, who is being held without bail in the slaying of Roberto Duncanson, 20, allegedly snarled at the victim, “What are you looking at, f—-r?” when their paths crossed on St. Marks Ave. in Crown Heights on May 12, sources said.

Willock unleashed a salvo of anti-gay slurs because he thought Duncanson was flirting with him, they said

Via the LGBTPOC listserve comes news that “flirting” was cited as a motive in the Garzon killing.

John L. McGhee, the accused killer of Edgar Garzon, made the assault because Garzon flirted with him, the Queens prosecutor asserted at the start of McGhee's trial.

“I will prove to you that on August 15, 2001… his defendant, John McGhee, attacked Edgar Garzon,” Karen L. Ross, the assistant district attorney who is handling the case, told the jury in her July 12 opening statement. “I will prove to you that this defendant did this because Mr. Garzon was a gay man and he made the mistake of hitting on this defendant.”

Of course, Pam pointed out at Pandagon a while back that the religious right is afraid the “panic defense” will be labeled a hate crime, as though it shouldn't be. Apparently nobody has told them that saying “No, thank you” is still a legal option.

The reality, noted by Mike at Ex-Gay Watch, is that 1 in 5 sexual minorities are targeted for hate crimes.

* 13% of respondents said they had been hit, beaten, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted because of their sexual orientation.
* 15% had been robbed or had their property stolen, vandalized, or purposely damaged.
* Combining these two groups, 21% had experienced either violence or a property crime.
* 14% said someone had tried to attack them, rob them, or damage their property, but didn’t succeed.
* 23% had been threatened with violence.
* 13% had an object thrown at them.
* 49% had been verbally insulted or abused because of their sexual orientation.

The right, of course, is spreading propaganda that the hate crimes bill will “criminalize speech,” when in reality the bill will merely empower federal agencies to step in where state authorities fail to act, provide state authorities with additional resources to investigate and prosecute hate crimes, and give federal authorities the ability to help investigate such crimes, much as the FBI did in several murders and beatings of civil rights activists, went southern sheriffs and juries refused to pursue or punish such crimes.

One might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps that's exactly what the right doesn't want — the state or federal agencies to pursue and punish  anti-gay hate crimes by individuals who “by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with… any person” because of real or perceived sexual orientation — and that their “criminalizing speech” propaganda is merely convenient cover for what they perhaps cannot even bring themselves to say, because of what it implies about them. How else can they say “We do not advocate violence against other people” while simultaneously and dishonestly opposing a law that would ensure that anti-gay hate crimes are investigated and prosecuted?

That's something that Joe Perez delineates with amazing clarity.

Homophobia is a set of beliefs and behaviors based on the hatred or fear of gay people, or based on the premise that homosexuality is intrinsically inferior, sick, and shameful. There is a natural tendency for younger human beings–especially adolescent males, but more generally as well–to go through a phase of development in which they need to strongly repress natural same-sex emotional and sexual urges in order to pass certain hurdles of entering adulthood.

For this and other reasons, it may be said that a certain degree of homophobia is natural in our culture for negotiating certain lesser developed stages of life. Unfortunately, many adults get stuck in this juvenile and primitive mode of relating, and they continue in their homophobia well into adulthood. Unfortunately, their homophobia is often supported by religious beliefs, cultural attitudes, and even political ideologies.

Adults restricted by selfish and ethnocentric moralities are unable to empathetically place themselves in the shoes of a homosexual or transgender person, and therefore their moral horizons have not expanded enough to let go of their homophobia. They are moral cripples, in a manner of speaking.

Authentic spirituality teaches empathy and compassion towards all, and forbids the expression of intolerance and hatred. Adults saddled with backwards heterosexist religious beliefs must be encouraged to question their received opinions in the light of more sophisticated readings of their sacred traditions. They must be taught to spiritually grow up.

Indeed empathy is something that develops during childhood, starting in infancy according to some, in various stages until the individual realizes not only that the world doesn't revolve around them, but that other people are just as “real” as they are, and that their “realities” are just as important as one's own.

And, according to one article, it maybe a mixture of immaturity and disgust that both homophobic violence and the unwillingness to pursue or punish it.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt wants to help liberal types like me understand why some people condemn homosexual relationships as immoral.

…Which Haidt says is exactly the point. Most people set their moral compasses based on their sense of disgust. This is an additional moral dimension, which he calls purity/sanctity.

…University of Pennsylvania psychologist and disgust expert Paul Rozin says it's particularly a guy thing – most heterosexual men are disgusted by the thought of touching other men. Rozin recalls experiments in which researchers asked subjects how disgusted they'd be if a Q-tip that had been in the mouth of either a man or a woman was subsequently touched to their own various orifices.

Women didn't care much whether the swab had touched the mouth of a man or a woman. But it mattered to men, who – surprise! – were not at all disgusted by the Q-tip that touched a woman but totally grossed out if they thought it had touched another guy's tongue.

Isn't it kind of babyish to declare gays immoral because you think their sex lives are icky?

Babyish? Perhaps, but the reality is that we can't afford to wait for people to “grow up” when it comes to anti-gay violence. Because, as PZ Myers posted at Phrayngula, some of them may think they're “doing God's work” by killing queers. (After all, they already think they're “doing God's work” by discriminating against queers.)

A Cypress man charged in the death of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant said Saturday that he was doing God's work when he went to a Montrose-area bar last month, hunting for a gay man to kill.

“I believe I'm Elijah, called by God to be a prophet,” said 26-year-old Terry Mark Mangum, charged with murder June 11. ” … I believe with all my heart that I was doing the right thing.”

Interviewed in the Brazoria County Jail Saturday morning, Mangum said he feels no remorse for killing 46-year-old Kenneth Cummings Jr., whom relatives described as a “loving” son who never forgot a holiday and a devoted uncle who had set up college funds for his niece and nephew. He worked at Southwest for 24 years.

Mangum, who described himself as “definitely not a homosexual,” said God called on him to “carry out a code of retribution” by killing a gay man because “sexual perversion” is the “worst sin.”

Too much is at stake, including life itself, for some of us.

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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