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Matthew Shepard: December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998
October 12, 2009 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Today is the 11th anniversary of Matthew Shepard's murder in Laramie, Wyoming. His mother, Judy, continues to speak out against her son's death, the House of Representatives has passed expanded anti-hate crime legislation, the event is being commemorated with the staging of The Laramie Project Epilogue in over 150 cities worldwide, including a special performance in Laramie itself. Meanwhile, some people continue to deny Shepard was killed because he was gay.
posted by elder18 (70 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Virginia Foxx is my representative, and there are many layers to her idiocy, but her comments about Matthew Shepard (she also called it a "hoax") are here at her absolute worst, but not far below her usual level.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 2:00 PM on October 12, 2009


My cousin Nomi Silverman, an artist in Connecticut, has done a remarkable cycle of drawings which tell the story this post is about:

http://www.contemprints.org/content.php?navid=24&cid=292
posted by Postroad at 2:24 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


...might really have been nothing more than a hapless robbery victim who was exploited by gay activists to reap unwarranted sympathy and advance their own agenda to enact hate-crimes legislation.
Man. That's about the most cynical thing I've read in a while. What exactly is the "agenda" around hate crimes legislation? I'm trying to twist the desire for hate crimes legislation in some way that would infuse it with some insidious, self-serving purpose, but I'm coming up empty.

And "unwarranted sympathy?" WTF. What the hell does that even mean, in this context?

Rest in peace, Matthew. I'm always glad to see this, because it helps me not to forget.
posted by Brak at 2:48 PM on October 12, 2009


"So here we are, at two minutes after the death of Matthew Shepard. The media are awash in earnest condemnation. But mark my words, after three and a half minutes, someone will casually suggest that hatred is just a matter of 'ignorance' and 'stupidity' and there's no sense in analyzing it too much, because the killers were 'just a couple of rednecks.' If you're still talking about Matthew Shepard after four minutes, you will be urged to shut up and get on with the healing process. After five minutes, you'll be accused of 'magnifying' an isolated misfortune. After six minutes, you'll face charges of 'exploiting for personal profit what has already been laid to rest.' " -- Patricia Williams, The Nation, November 9, 1998.
posted by blucevalo at 2:54 PM on October 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


Shepard met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson in a bar, where the two offered him a ride home. Subsequently, Shepard was robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area, and left to die. He was beaten with a gun, which are generally used to, you know, shoot people. That's a lot of unnecessary effort to rob a man. He was not a "reckless sexual aggressor," as some people claimed back in 1999 (and still might claim, I really don't want to spend time searching for such information). This Salon.com article has a lot of detail from the original case, if you're interested.

The sadly amusing thing: if people didn't try to revise history, there would be less of a story. The House vote was a solid win, just shy of 2:1 in favor of the bill (yes: 281; no: 146: didn't vote: 6). It's interesting that the attempt to quiet those in support of gay rights and anti-persecution measures has swung from being "he was asking for it" to "he was just a random victim, and the justice prevailed with the existing laws."

In regards to the claims of Louie Gohmert (R-TX): haven't we moved away from the "slippery slope of homosexuality" claims in the last few years? Apparently someone needs to remind Gohmert of the difference between consenting adults and corpses.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:55 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


What exactly is the "agenda" around hate crimes legislation?

I think that the idea, warped as it is, is that there's some kind of "secret gay agenda" to either damn the souls of decent Christian folk by making them forget that homosexuality is "evil," or to directly "convert" decent Christian kids to the gay. I guess since there are those brands of Christians who think it's their duty to convert others to their own way of life, there may be some subtype who feel as though their "enemies" do the same.

I seem to recall that there was a book, or video, or something, called "The Secret Gay
Agenda" or words to that effect. Think I encountered it on one of the Christian cable channels.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:57 PM on October 12, 2009


In regards to the claims of Louie Gohmert (R-TX): haven't we moved away from the "slippery slope of homosexuality" claims in the last few years?

No. We've sure as hell not. Especially not in Tyler and Longview, Texas.
posted by blucevalo at 3:01 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Can we please not post the Glenn Beck crap here?"
I understand the pushback. Y'know though - this specific Glenn Beck crap aside, it does seem to be of a piece in terms of the right's media presentation:

"Today in an interview with Radio America/WorldNetDaily, Rep. Steve King (R-IA)
– who has said that hate crimes legislation creates “sacred cows” and puts the “victimizer’s focus on someone else” — tried to argue that such a bill is unnecessary."

I flipped through some AM channels the other day and caught a good 15 minute rant where some guy (the host) went off calling someone names, a jerk, a racist, etc. there was a lot of pauses and dead air and it was otherwise pretty incoherent, self-serving and not anywhere near entertaining. Even in a mean spirited way. It was more akin to walking in on some family argument you know nothing about where someone's mean parent is angry drunk and just berating people in the room randomly.
Just ugly.
And I think a lot of the right wing media has devolved into that. Even placing myself in the most anti-homosexual marriage position possible, I can find nothing at all to say about what happened to Matthew Shepard other than perhaps being tragic and a shame. I wouldn't bring the two topics up together at all myself. I'd consider them completely separate issues for fear someone would think I endorse such a horrible thing. Hell, even if I really thought so, I wouldn't say it.
And yet - here we are.
You have Beck, et.al. weeping that Obama is racist, all the forums open for this kind of crap. This kind of drumbeat dissembling. All of this - it completely ignores all reason and pretense at common ground or reaching any compromise or even an agreement to disagree and hey, maybe just live in peace.
It's been my experience that those sorts of folks have no understanding of the implications of the alternative.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:01 PM on October 12, 2009


Or maybe they do have an understanding of the alternative and are doing everything in their power to make the alternative a reality.
posted by blucevalo at 3:05 PM on October 12, 2009


I was in a shortened version of The Laramie Project performed for a high school one-act play festival in rural Minnesota. It's easily the most powerful play I've ever been a part of, and in hindsight I'm amazed at our director for having put it on.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:06 PM on October 12, 2009


Even if you somehow came to the conclusion that Matthew Shepard's murder wasn't actually a result of his being gay that conclusion should be separate from whether you believe hate crime legislation should be expanded. If you think a jury can't judge the facts of the case for whether it was a hate crime or not then I don't see how you'd have any faith in the criminal justice system whatsoever.

From what I've read of Matthew Shepard's murder I think you'd be hard pressed to say his sexual orientation didn't play some role. I don't think robbers would bother torturing their victim unless they wanted to punish them for something or they were complete sociopaths.
posted by Green With You at 3:07 PM on October 12, 2009


I'm going to the performance in Laramie tonight, where I live, and frankly I'm a bit frightened at the prospect of what some of the people who live here might say, especially since it's being shown or performed all over the world.

Laramie, like pretty much every small town, has its share of ignorant people. My fear is that people will take these attitudes and prejudices as emblematic of the whole community, which, believe me, would be far from the truth.

Anyway, it's going to be interesting to be at "ground zero" for such an important event and remembrance.
posted by elder18 at 3:07 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, some people continue to deny Shepard was killed because he was gay.

Aaron McKinney was interviewed for the Laramie Project Epilogue.
"According to the detailed notes taken by [actor/writer Dan] Pierotti and condensed into the new script, McKinney says he had been drawn to crime ever since childhood, feels sympathy for Shepard's parents and expresses regret that he let his own father down. 'As far as Matt is concerned, I don't have any remorse,' McKinney is quoted as saying in the script, which was provided to The Associated Press by the production company. McKinney, according to the script, reiterates his claim that the 1998 killing in Laramie, Wyo., started out as a robbery, but makes clear that his antipathy toward gays played a role. 'The night I did it, I did have hatred for homosexuals,' McKinney is quoted as saying. He goes on, according to the script, to say that he still dislikes gays and that his perceptions about Shepard's sex life bolstered his belief that the killing was justified. McKinney and his accomplice, Russell Henderson, targeted Shepard at a bar in Laramie in part because they assumed he was gay, according to the script. 'Well, he was overly friendly. And he was obviously gay,' McKinney is quoted as saying. 'That played a part ... his weakness. His frailty. And he was dressed nice. Looked like he had money.'

Of Judy Shepard's ongoing work against hate crimes, McKinney says: '...she never shuts up about it, and it's been like 10 years.'

Pierotti says he wanted to address whether or not the murder was a hate crime, a question raised by a sensationalist 20/20 segment by Elizabeth Vargas in 2004 claiming the murder was motivated by drugs."*
posted by ericb at 3:14 PM on October 12, 2009


I cannot possibly comprehend the depth of pain Judy Shepard must face every day. That she is able to deal with her own loss, as well as the hatred and stupidity of those mentioned above, and still have the energy to fight for justice in her son's honor, amazes me. Thank you, Judy. Rest in peace, Matthew.
posted by Morrigan at 3:30 PM on October 12, 2009


If they seriously believe McKinney and Henderson didn't commit a hate crime, or that this entire event is a hoax, then why aren't they in Cheyenne arguing in front of the Wyoming Supreme Court to get these guys a new trial? I mean, didn't the idea of a hate crime itself bias the judge and jury?

Oh, right. They did murder him. They just didn't murder-murder him, you know, like how Obama may be "president" but he's not PRESIDENT-PRESIDENT. So they deserve to do the time, but they just got shafted by getting life in prison instead of the life in prison they deserved.

The snarl of beliefs within the GOP right now has reached a level where the operatives are contradicting themselves within single sentences. The GOP has become NBC post-Friends -- without anything to lead them, they're stuck between being Not Any Other Network and having lots of small-audience boutique ideas that 93% of the country has no interest in, all while lacking any brainpower or strategy at the top, all while pining for the days of (Ronnie, Newt, Tom De Lay)||(Joey, Chandler, Rachel).
posted by dw at 3:40 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


What exactly is the "agenda" around hate crimes legislation?

Puttin' the white man in his place, naturally. It's all about criminalizing those who read the Good Book and believe in God. It's the tribal I Want My Country Back response.

Basically, it's a variant on the same well-aged whine about political correctness, and nursing the victim wound for whites who feel (!) marginalized by a society that will no longer accept their bigotry.
posted by dhartung at 3:41 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to twist the desire for hate crimes legislation in some way that would infuse it with some insidious, self-serving purpose, but I'm coming up empty.

There are men and women of good will who not only deplore the murder of Matthew Shepherd, but would frown on mere discourtesy to a person on the basis of his or her sexual orientation or race, who nonetheless oppose hate crime legislation because it establishes a category of "thought crime" that, while it may favor a cause that we are sympathetic to today, could be twisted into a precedent for government repression at some point in the future. The problem with thought crimes is that their definition is infinitely elastic, and this spooky indeterminacy gives the accusers an unfair advantage over the accused, whose only defense is denial.
posted by Faze at 3:47 PM on October 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I was going to come in and congratulate Metafilter for going twenty comments without the hate crimes as thought crimes argument coming up, so it's a good thing I previewed, because I would have been wrong. Cue same old argument.
posted by Caduceus at 3:53 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I would put more stock into the thought crime argument if we didn't already base how we punish people based upon things like motive. I don't hear all these people clamoring against hate crime legislation also arguing against different degrees of murder.
posted by Green With You at 3:58 PM on October 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


[NO PRISON RAPE JOKES/WISHES thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 4:05 PM on October 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


If you think a jury can't judge the facts of the case for whether it was a hate crime or not then I don't see how you'd have any faith in the criminal justice system whatsoever.

I certainly don't have any implicit trust in the criminal justice system. Laws are frequently brought to bear outside of the scope of the problem they were intended to solve. Anti-terrorism statutes have meant we've got enforcement and prosecution (and hey, even airline employees) stretching the definition of terrorism. Why should I expect that hate crime statutes would be any different? And for what? To further prosecute things that are already crimes?

I'd actually agree the system needs better guidelines for handling any ideologically motivated crime... including hate crimes and terrorism. I agree they're different in character than those motivated by mere selfishness or orneriness, and that somebody who thinks gay bashing is some kind of ad hoc moral enforcement duty is going to need different treatment by the system than somebody who gets into a brawl with a guy who happens to be gay. But I think that the solution probably isn't generally the creation of new statutory classes of crime. Sentencing and rehabilitation is probably the place to address this. And I don't blame anybody who's wary about whether or not our system has what it takes to make these judgments accurately and fairly on a reliable enough basis that we wouldn't be introducing new injustices.
posted by weston at 4:13 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was going to come in and congratulate Metafilter for going twenty comments without the hate crimes as thought crimes argument coming up

Are you saying there's some counterargument to the thought crime objection that should have made its invocation irrelevant, or are you saying rehashing that particular side of the discssion is somehow boring or distasteful?
posted by weston at 4:22 PM on October 12, 2009


The murder of Mathew Shepard was absolutely deplorable.

It's also a non sequitur as an argument for hate crimes legislation.

His attackers were both successfully convicted of murder. To avoid the death penalty, one agreed testify, and the other brokered a deal with Shepard's parents. They were sentenced to two consecutive life terms without possibility of parole.

What would hate crime legislation have done to make this situation better? Should they have gotten three consecutive life sentences instead of two?
posted by designbot at 4:32 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


it establishes a category of "thought crime" that, while it may favor a cause that we are sympathetic to today, could be twisted into a precedent for government repression at some point in the future

The Shepard Act actually does no such thing.

The final version included explicit language that recognizes existing rights to free speech and association that were stronger than what was in the House bill, which was done for the benefit of folks just like you. All the Act does is cover a category of motive for violent crime, and violence has never been considered protected speech.

I really wish people would educate themselves a little before opening their mouths.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:23 PM on October 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


“There are men and women of good will who not only deplore the murder of Matthew Shepherd, but would frown on mere discourtesy to a person on the basis of his or her sexual orientation or race, who nonetheless oppose hate crime legislation… “

One thing has nothing to do with the other. One is either involved, or is not. One cannot accept the reality of Matthew Sheperd without either denying he was killed because he was gay – which is what’s being done – or accepting that being killed because he was gay is a problem that is not going to be remedied by what has been done in the past.
I accept there are men and women of good conscience. What I do not accept are excuses for resisting people, even tacitly, who are trying to make a positive change to fix the problem by either denying the problem, or asserting the priority of a potentially larger one.
And although I completely agree with your analysis and your point, I think you’re going too easy on those folks.

A while back (and I’ve told this story so bear with me) my wife and I were walking and some idiots said something stupid to a passing gay couple (as idiots are wont to do). I got involved. Me. I did. My wife also got involved, and she would have without me. But I was there first with the “What’re you fucks, from Kansas?” shout of disapproval. It got carried further, and I was there also.
Point being – it’s not enough to frown.

“What would hate crime legislation have done to make this situation better?”

Nothing. But Shepard is already dead. I’m not aware of any law that can resurrect the dead or make any situation retroactively better.

One of the aims of hate crime legislation is akin to anti-terrorism law in that law enforcement has more tools with which to investigate ideologically unified organizations that promote violence.

This has the side effect of the government affecting the social landscape which is something, as a conservative, I vehemently oppose. Except in certain cases such as where it is oppressive to a minority group.

I’d say being robbed, tied to a fence, pistol whipped into a coma and left to die in the elements with head fractures and brain injury, would be on the oppressive side, yeah.
The point being it’s not about Shepard. Which is the problem. It’s about the next guy. And there will be another. And another. And so on until the problem is addressed by means other than the raw element of prosecuting ‘murder.’

Hell, why found an "American Crusade Against Lynching" when it's not going to bring anyone back, doesn't have police powers, doesn't really 'do' much, indeed, gets labeled as a commie outfit (along with one of the members - Einstein) by the FBI.
A lot of this is fought in the symbolic realm.

“Or maybe they do have an understanding of the alternative and are doing everything in their power to make the alternative a reality.”

Presumably not involving themselves in the fray of course. But no such thing. For every act of violence, generally you see two or three reactions/reiterations.
So picture a situation as bad as it can possibly get, then double or triple it.

That’s without the reiterations, y’know, reiterating. And digressing into side beefs. Which have their own fun little reiterations. And all that generally goes on well past the point anyone can keep track of the original conflict.

It all looks nice and neat on the news, but in situ, no, it’s pretty chaotic and nasty and the combatants tend to eventually resemble each other.
Look at the middle east. Yeah, yeah, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, but it goes back to the battle of Kadesh, which was at least 50% misunderstanding.

Folks forget, in the immediacy, that the ripple of decisions and events move through time as well as space.
And something done 20, 100 years ago, can lead to someone being murdered for it today.
I think black people would still be getting lynched without the social changes made.
And no, those broad changes in the law don’t help one guy in one field surrounded by guys with ropes and torches.
But it did allow for someone like MLK (as in - it was possible to seek change in the social order rather than needing to pick up a weapon) at a time when the U.S. could easily have had a full race war, which some people were indeed arming for. And rightly so.

How long would it take for that to heal? Who makes the sacrifices while we insist the law can’t be passed?
If written properly it will pass into obsolescence once the social need for it has passed. Like the third amendment.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:09 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Apparently someone needs to remind Gohmert of the difference between consenting adults and corpses.

And you expect anyone from the party of Strom Thurmond (or Montgomery Burns, for that matter) to grok this distinction?
posted by joe lisboa at 6:26 PM on October 12, 2009


Seems like it wasn't so long ago that this happened. Still it's so sad. Glad his mother has had enough strength over the years to keep up the fight for Gay Rights. Great to see Matthew Shepard honored all over the country too!!
posted by credit-expert at 6:27 PM on October 12, 2009


"What would hate crime legislation have done to make this situation better?"

Y'know, I can't seem to let go of this. It's an appallingly stupid concept. And I don't mean anything personally there. I had an argument with a math teacher a while back who insisted there was no such thing as a 20 sided geometric shape (I played AD&D at the time... guy still couldn't believe it). People just get hooked into their mindsets and I do it too, so - it's the idea that's dumb, not necessarily a given adherent.

But this is precisely the problem. Certain ideas themselves and attachment to them.
What hate crime legislation would have done to make the situation better is - if it were passed 20, 30 years ago, what is considered socially acceptable would have changed, like it being ok to not wear a coat, hat, tie, and bustle when traveling downtown, or not making folks of a different color sit behind you on a bus or, yeah, not being ok, to beat homosexual men to death.
Shepard would be alive today if people didn't have the idea that someone else's sexualty threatens yours. If that idea weren't reiterated socially. Or played off of.
At best they might have merely disliked him. Or left. But they would have gotten the impression through social cues that harming someone because of their sexual orientation is wrong. And importantly through overt laws sending that message explicitly.

There would have been the unstated suggestion that it would be unproductive even with, perhaps, tacit local approval.
It's the idea one needs to combat. These two idiots were victims of it as well. Not in the violence certainly. But they've certainly lost their lives.
And for what? To prove their straight? Virile? Manly?
One has to ask - well what gave them that idea? And, inevitably, how can we stop it?

Because we certainly can't ask Shepard to change.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:29 PM on October 12, 2009


The Shepard Act actually does no such thing.

The final version included explicit language that recognizes existing rights to free speech and association that were stronger than what was in the House bill, which was done for the benefit of folks just like you. All the Act does is cover a category of motive for violent crime, and violence has never been considered protected speech.

I really wish people would educate themselves a little before opening their mouths.


This was pointed out to me in a previous thread. However I think it is/was a legitimate concern, since those clauses weren't added until after the potential threat to free speech was raised repeatedly by opponents of the bill and the ACLU. That the issue has been addressed does't mean it was a stupid objection in the first place. There's also the slippery slope argument that this legislation will be a stepping stone to stronger legislation against "hate speech" also exists.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:49 PM on October 12, 2009


What hate crime legislation would have done to make the situation better is - if it were passed 20, 30 years ago, what is considered socially acceptable would have changed, like it being ok to not wear a coat, hat, tie, and bustle when traveling downtown, or not making folks of a different color sit behind you on a bus or, yeah, not being ok, to beat homosexual men to death.

Does laws create social attitudes or do they reflect them? In many cases the laws that are on the books lag well behind changes in social attitudes. Do you seriously think that Matthew Shepard's killers believed that society approved of their actions?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:07 PM on October 12, 2009


Do you seriously think that Matthew Shepard's killers believed that society approved of their actions?
Yes. Yes, I do. In my lifetime, the Supreme Court had to mandate that marraiges like mine were legal, despite sociteal disapproval.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:16 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hate crime legislation is important because hate crimes don't just affect the victim of the crime. They're intended to terrorize every member of the minority group they target.
posted by EarBucket at 8:34 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Police: New York man beaten for being gay
A man brutally beaten in New York City was targeted because he is openly gay, the New York Police Department said Monday.

Two men shouting "anti-gay remarks" viciously beat Jack Price, 49, as he left a 24-hour deli on College Point Boulevard in Queens early Friday morning, police said. No further details where available about the attack.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:46 PM on October 12, 2009


"What hate crime legislation would have done to make the situation better is - if it were passed 20, 30 years ago, what is considered socially acceptable would have changed"

Really? Anti-lynching laws were passed during Reconstruction. Blacks were still lynched on a regular basis up to the 1950's.

Hate-crimes legislation is a terrible idea. But not all people who oppose this legislation are anti-gay. But don't let facts get in the way of your little soapbox displays of righteous anger.

"Police: New York man beaten for being gay"

So hopefully the guys will be arrested and charged according to the law. A hate-crime law wouldn't prevent this type of thing, unfortunately. You can administer justice based on outcomes, not intentions.
posted by bardic at 9:20 PM on October 12, 2009


You can administer justice based on outcomes, not intentions.

You can, but that's not how the justice system works, in reality. In fact, intentions already play a large part in assessing the degree of crime committed and the sentence handed out.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:30 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


But only in bizzaro world would we attempt to address the unfair treatment of gays by legislating that they are "worth more" than non-gays (in terms of sentencing after the fact), which would be unfair by definition and defeat the goal of equal treatment under the law for everyone.

It's a bad idea in theory, and it would serve no practical purpose to boot. The death penalty doesn't deter murder, nor would a more severe punishment for anti-gay "thoughts" occurring along with the beating or murder of a gay person.

"Because it makes us feel good" is a terrible position from which to enact legal reform.
posted by bardic at 10:41 PM on October 12, 2009


legislating that they are "worth more" than non-gays

Wow.

That's not what this law does, at all. It's not about thought crimes and it's not about making gay people worth more than straights.

Can you folks please read the bill in question, before commenting on it? Please?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:01 PM on October 12, 2009


The current bill is an expansion of a previous one that "requires the United States Sentencing Commission to increase the penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person." In effect, some people become "more equal" than others under the law, and this is absurd, dangerous, and self-defeating. But maybe I should reserve more of my distaste for the original bill, as opposed to the expansion of a bad bill.

But feel free to keep your condescension to yourself.
posted by bardic at 11:24 PM on October 12, 2009




In effect, some people become "more equal" than others under the law, and this is absurd, dangerous, and self-defeating.

Who becomes "more equal"? People who have a "race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation"?
posted by teraflop at 12:18 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why the upset on the right about hate crime laws? Here in my state, we had two murder cases (some time ago, now) where the defendants argued that the victims' homosexuality justified the killings.

In one case, the defendant was in a well-known gay bar, accepted drinks from his victim, went home with him, and bludgeoned him to death. He claimed he panicked when he realized that the victim was gay and was coming on to him. He was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter, and given time served (nine months, since he hadn't posted bail) as a sentence.

In the second case, the defendant had gone into a public bathroom and seen a homeless man washing in the sink. He went outside and gathered his friends, they returned and beat the homeless man, eventually stabbing him to death. He claimed the homeless man had propositioned him and caused him to panic. He was found guilty of second degree homicide, and his friends were allowed to plead guilty to assault. He received a sentence of five years.

The prosecutor of both cases was re-elected on a tough-on-crime platform and is still serving.

If we had a federal hate crime law, the defense in both those cases would have been an admission of hate crime. Just as federal civil rights laws are used to end-run racist local prosecutors and juries, , just as federal civil rights laws laws were used in the '40s against lynchers, federal hate crime laws could be used to end-run local prosecutors and juries who share the prejudices of the hate criminal, and who are inclined to let him off the hook.

The right wing knows this, and so they fight hate crime laws. They believe that they should have the right to hate and to kill those they hate, and they are fighting for that right.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:29 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


In effect, some people become "more equal" than others under the law, and this is absurd, dangerous, and self-defeating.

That's a fairly novel interpretation of a body of laws that protect minorities. The only difference now is that gay folks are involved.

There's nothing in the law that makes people unequal or takes away your free speech rights. It provides more severe punishment for violent crimes committed against targeted minorities.

That's all it does. There's no free speech zone. No slippery slope.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:55 AM on October 13, 2009


To those who in good faith harbor (as I once did) First Amendment-related concerns about increased penalties for hate crimes, it might be worth considering that the US Supreme Court in 1993 unanimously ruled that the government may consider whether a crime was motivated by a victim's status in a protected class. "Unanimously" meaning "even Scalia and Thomas."

The court found that the Wisconsin law targeted conduct as opposed to expression, and I expect the same would hold for the federal law which the Shepard Act updates.
posted by scatter gather at 12:56 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


"... I got involved. Me. I did. My wife also got involved, and she would have without me. But I was there first with the “What’re you fucks, from Kansas?” shout of disapproval. ..." [emphasis mine] "... Point being – it’s not enough to frown. "
posted by Smedleyman at 9:09 PM on October 12

It seems to me, that the best way of dissuading others from acting on hate, is probably not to disparage a whole state of people, at the top of your lungs, with profanity. I grew up in Kansas, smedleyman, and your choice of the Sunflower State as an object for vindictive comparison as a base for harboring hate crime mentality is utterly unfounded, in my experience.

It hardly marks you as a defender of principle, to open an exchange this way.
posted by paulsc at 1:02 AM on October 13, 2009


But only in bizzaro world would we attempt to address the unfair treatment of gays by legislating that they are "worth more" than non-gays (in terms of sentencing after the fact)

Let's take this out of the realm of sexual orientation for a minute. Let's say we're considering two vandalism cases. In one case, a vandal has smashed up an SUV and made statements about how they're resource-guzzling hogs and blight on our environment and need to be taken off the roads. In another, a vandal has taken a baseball bat to a sedan that belongs to an ex.

I think it's somewhat likely that in the former case, the vandal may be more recalcitrant than the latter. A crime undertaken because you feel it provides some personal gratification or advantage is one that seems like the kind that'd be most easily addressed by a penalty. But a person motivated to a crime by a sense that it works in the service of a larger good might well consider the penalty just a cost for contributing to the cause. A system that distinguishes between what you do with my hypothetical vandals after conviction may not be saying SUVs are somehow worth more, it's likely saying that one perpetrator may be more likely to commit a similar crime again.

I recognize that this isn't the only justification in circulation, but I think it's credible one. Nor do I think it negates a lot of legitimate concerns about how justly the application might be handled (my largest concern) or questions about whether increased penalties act as a deterrent. Just thought it should be noted.

Can you folks please read the bill in question, before commenting on it? Please?

Perhaps it would help if someone linked.
posted by weston at 1:28 AM on October 13, 2009


Of Judy Shepard's ongoing work against hate crimes, McKinney says: '...she never shuts up about it, and it's been like 10 years.'

All that whining. Anyone would think you killed her son. She can grow another one, what's the big fucking deal?

What a worthless piece of shit.

Basically, it's a variant on the same well-aged whine about political correctness, and nursing the victim wound for whites who feel (!) marginalized by a society that will no longer accept their bigotry.

Because "hating gays" is a white problem, right?

I would put more stock into the thought crime argument if we didn't already base how we punish people based upon things like motive. I don't hear all these people clamoring against hate crime legislation also arguing against different degrees of murder.

Quite. People who are opposed to the notion of hate crime legislation presumably ought to happily argue that there is no difference between, say, a healthy adult male hitting another healthy adult male and a healthy adult male hitting a wheelchair bound 80 year old.

I accept there are men and women of good conscience. What I do not accept are excuses for resisting people, even tacitly, who are trying to make a positive change to fix the problem by either denying the problem, or asserting the priority of a potentially larger one.

That seems a remarkably silly argument to me. By that logic I have no business opposing someone who believes the solution to the very real problem of rape or child abuse in our society is to massively relax the rules of evidence in order to guarantee more convictions by pointing out the likely massive increase in wrongful convictions.

Do you seriously think that Matthew Shepard's killers believed that society approved of their actions?

Are you seriously arguing that the United States - the country where, in the last presidential election people showed up at vice-presidential rallies with monkey dolls and people support the murder of doctors attending their church - there are a shortage of social support amongst a significant number of people for the idea that beating and, yes, killing gays is no real wrongdoing?

Have you looked out the window lately?

But only in bizzaro world would we attempt to address the unfair treatment of gays by legislating that they are "worth more" than non-gays (in terms of sentencing after the fact), which would be unfair by definition and defeat the goal of equal treatment under the law for everyone.

Were you dropped on the head as a child? Do you whine every time someone who assaults an elderly person recieves a harsh sentence that the courts have made old people "more special" than everyone else? Do you regard the existinance of special laws for dealing with the rape of children as distinct from other types of secual assault an affront against decency? Perhaps you can start campaigning against anti-discrimination laws in employment as an affront on the grounds they make blacks and women special, too.
posted by rodgerd at 1:28 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


What would hate crime legislation have done to make this better?

I thought this was a good question. According to Human Rights Campaign, Laramie had to furlough five law enforcement employees in order to prosecute the Shepard case. Had sexual orientation been a protected class at the time, Laramie would have been eligible for federal grants to fund the case. Sentencing is only one component of federal hate crimes law.
posted by scatter gather at 1:39 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


First off, I've sucked a fair number of dicks. So don't, for a moment, think I'm anti-gay.

But hatecrime laws strike me as a bit ridiculous. It's already covered by existing statutes. If you kill somebody "because" of anything, then it's first degree murder. It doesn't matter if it's "because" he owes you money or because she laps pussy. Second-degree murder is reserved for situations where "I was completely enraged, lost my mind, and killed her right then and there". While I don't approve of the death penalty, I do believe the sentence for first degree murder should always be life in prison without parole.

Meanwhile, the only hatecrime prosecution of which I have any personal knowledge was defended by a lawyer I know. His client was alone, walking home, when a group of black men attacked him and tried to grab his bag. He ran like hell, and they chased him. So he picked up a piece of lumber from the sidewalk, turned around, and fought back. He wound up putting one of the dudes into a coma, from which he returned after a week or so. The grand jury decided to indict for aggravated assault as a hatecrime when one of the attackers reported that the guy had screamed racial epithets as he fought back. None of the other facts of the case were disputed by either side. The defense was "self-defense during robbery"; the prosecution was "the defendant hates black people and tried to kill one".

Now, tell me how you can go from murder-1 to murder-2 for losing your mind in the moment and killing somebody, but go from not-worth-prosecuting to hatecrime when you lose your civil tongue and scream derogatory terms?

So, yeah, I'm not a big fan of hatecrime laws. But then, I'm not a big fan of law in general.
posted by Netzapper at 3:56 AM on October 13, 2009


I used to be in the camp that believes you penalise the crime rather than the intent although this doesn't account for the difference between degrees of killing - or the difference between e.g. dropping a decimal point by being an idiot and dropping one because you are committing fraud. But Fred Clark gave an argument to reverse my position (sometimes people do change views due to internet arguments).

One of the key functions of the penal system is to protect society. If someone murders their wife, they show themselves to be a danger to their wife and probably other intimates (and certainly future wives). And are not immenently likely to offend again, no longer having another wife.

If someone murders a person for being gay (or black or whatever) they show themselves to be a danger to every single gay person - a group of millions. As such, far more needs to be done to protect society from the clear and present danger that they have shown themselves to be - and there are plenty more targets out there.

So under classical theories of justice, there is a significant reason that hate criminals should be locked up longer than normal ones who commit the same acts.
posted by Francis at 5:24 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Intention is the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter. So why can't there be a difference for the intention to harm someone on the basis of sexual orientation/race/gender?

Hate crime legislation is not thought crime legislation.
posted by grubi at 5:44 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


.
posted by zizzle at 6:32 AM on October 13, 2009


There are men and women of good will... who nonetheless oppose hate crime legislation because it establishes a category of "thought crime"

Men and women of good will may be uninformed or misinformed, or may have poor reasoning skills. That does not make them any less good-willed, but it does make their arguments more spurious.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:54 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The final version included explicit language that recognizes existing rights to free speech and association that were stronger than what was in the House bill, which was done for the benefit of folks just like you.

Just to reinforce the point that hate-crime laws cannot violate free speech - it is completely irrelevant what language the hate crime bill has regarding free speech rights. No statute can abrogate or limit constitutional protections, and the language that was added to the bill is just window-dressing.
posted by thewittyname at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the aims of hate crime legislation is akin to anti-terrorism law in that law enforcement has more tools

Out of 763 "anti-terrorist" sneak-and-peek search warrants issued under the Patriot Act, 760 were for drug cases. To what new and exciting uses will the anti-hate law be twisted into service? Considering the misuse of existing statutes for purposes unintended when the legislation was passed, perhaps some concern is warranted.

If a Mexican immigrant is beaten unconscious by black teenagers who insult his nationality, will they be eligible for prosecution under the anti-hate law? What if the victim were Jewish? What if he were white? If the answers are all "yes", it seems an excellent law for padding the bottom line of the for-profit prisons.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:11 AM on October 13, 2009


Of Judy Shepard's ongoing work against hate crimes, McKinney says: '...she never shuts up about it, and it's been like 10 years.'

Shorter: "Seriously lady, it's been like a decade since I killed your kid, get over it already..."

Netzapper : But hatecrime laws strike me as a bit ridiculous. It's already covered by existing statutes. If you kill somebody "because" of anything, then it's first degree murder.

I used to agree with this, but a thread from 2007 changed my opinion on the subject. It's easy to point at big crimes and question the value of hate crime legislation, because those criminal offenses already carry a harsh sentence. But what about the lesser crimes that impact the targeted community? In a black neighborhood, burning a cross on someone's lawn without hate crime legislation is what? Trespassing? Maybe vandalism? If someone was caught doing it, there really isn't a sentence that carries weight comparable to the amount of fear and unrest it causes to the people directly affected.

That is what eventually got me; it's not the big crimes, but the little ones. The ones that slowly erode the happiness and security of a group by allowing, even tacitly, for people to target them without any real concerns of legal sanction.
posted by quin at 8:34 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


What hate crime legislation would have done to make the situation better is - if it were passed 20, 30 years ago...

Hate crime laws were passed 40 years ago and have been in place since then!

To follow-on points made by bardic and Blazecock Pileon, hate crimes legislation has been in place since 1969.

The Matthew Shepard Act extends the already enforced 1969 United States federal hate-crime law. The principal changes to the existing 1969 law would be:
Gender, disability and sexual orientation would become additional protected classifications [added to those classes already covered -- race, color, religion or national origin].

The six federally protected activities would be deleted. A victim would be protected by the law at all times, not just when they were doing specific activities, like being at work, voting, or attending a public school.
The scope of the law would include:
Both men and women would be protected if the assault or threat of assault was gender-based.

Quadriplegics, paraplegics, and persons who are blind, deaf etc. would be protected from attacks from individuals because of their disability.

Heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals would all be protected from crimes motivated by hatred of sexual orientation.
Regarding the 'free speech/thought crime' argument:
"Social and religious conservatives generally oppose the bill. Many ignore the protections that the bill would give to women, men, the disabled, and heterosexuals. They appear to be concerned almost exclusively with protections given to persons of one sexual orientation: homosexuals. They are concerned that a person who verbally attacks gays or lesbians could be charged under the act if any violent or criminal act resulted from the speech. This appears to be a misinterpretation of the bill, because it could only be applied to a person who has actually committed a crime. Speeches attacking gays and lesbians are not a criminal behavior; they are protected speech under the First Amendment."*

Also -- HR 1592 contains a 'Rule of Construction' which specifically provides that "Nothing in this Act...shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution."
posted by ericb at 9:40 AM on October 13, 2009


"Every act of violence is tragic and harmful in its consequences, but not all crime is based on hate. A hate crime or bias motivated crime occurs when the perpetrator of the crime intentionally selects the victim because of who the victim is. A bias motivated crime affects not only the victim and their family but an entire community or category of people and their families. A study funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics released September 2000, shows that 85 percent of law enforcement officials surveyed recognize bias motivated violence to be more serious than similar crimes not motivated by bias.

Hate crimes are destructive and divisive. A random act of violence resulting in injury or even death is a tragic event that devastates the lives of the victim and their family, but the intentional selection and beating or murder of an individual because of who they are terrorizes an entire community and sometimes the nation. For example, it is easy to recognize the difference between check-kiting and a cross burning; or the arson of an office building versus the intentional torching of a church or synagogue. The church or synagogue burning has a profound impact on the congregation, the faith community, the greater community, and the nation."*

"According to FBI statistics, of the over 113,000 hate crimes since 1991, 55% were motivated by racial bias, 17% by religious bias, 14% sexual orientation bias, 14% ethnicity bias, and 1% disability bias.

The [Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention -- aka Matthew Shepard] Act is supported by thirty-one state Attorneys General and over 210 national law enforcement, professional, education, civil rights, religious, and civic organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the NAACP. A November 2001 poll indicated that 73% of Americans favor hate-crime legislation covering sexual orientation." *
posted by ericb at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2009


But only in bizzaro world would we attempt to address the unfair treatment of gays by legislating that they are "worth more" than non-gays...

Non-gays are also protected under this legislation! We are all "worth" the same.
posted by ericb at 9:53 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


A pack of gays dragging a "breeder" behind a truck would be hit by this legislation just as harsh as the reverse. Before someone says that well, that doesn't happen nearly as much, so it's not really equal treatment ... think on that for a second. Maybe that's why things like this exist.
posted by kafziel at 10:16 AM on October 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


The only group that could be argued to be worth more / more equal is the disabled, since it's possible to not have a disability and the words "or lack thereof" are not explicitly included in the current wording.

But, rest assured, once there are rashes of attacks by wheelchair athletes who scream "How do ya like that, biped? What, can't you just walk away?!" at their victims, or militant blind people who firebomb the sighted after dimpling "Should've SEEN it coming!!" in reverse Braille into the side of the victim's car, it'll probably take less than 40 years to get those three words added.
posted by CKmtl at 10:49 AM on October 13, 2009


Non-gays are also protected under this legislation! We are all "worth" the same.

A pack of gays dragging a "breeder" behind a truck would be hit by this legislation just as harsh as the reverse.

Let's explore these claims for a bit.

Can anyone actually cite a single case where minorities were charged with a hate crime against non-minorities?

Putting aside the polemics around the case, the Channon Christian/Christopher Newsom case might be worth exploring. If the roles were reversed, does anyone seriously argue that hate crime penalties would not be brought to bear? The "but they have black friends" defense of the counsel is laughable.

posted by rr at 1:31 PM on October 13, 2009


Incidentally, there are interesting statistics here: link to one of many useful FBI UCR tables
posted by rr at 1:37 PM on October 13, 2009


Can anyone actually cite a single case where minorities were charged with a hate crime against non-minorities?

USA Today: Racial tensions are simmering in Hawaii's melting pot

Southern Poverty Law Center: Prejudice in Paradise
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:00 PM on October 13, 2009


Do you really think, in this country, that a punitive measure that can be applied to white-on-black violence is going to be passed over for black-on-white violence, because the victims weren't a minority? Are you that divorced from reality?
posted by kafziel at 3:06 PM on October 13, 2009


Can anyone actually cite a single case where minorities were charged with a hate crime against non-minorities?

Wisconsin v. Mitchell.
posted by scatter gather at 3:06 PM on October 13, 2009


Do you really think, in this country, that a punitive measure that can be applied to white-on-black violence is going to be passed over for black-on-white violence, because the victims weren't a minority? Are you that divorced from reality?

You are obviously unfamiliar with the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office.
posted by MikeMc at 3:55 PM on October 13, 2009


"Were you dropped on the head as a child?"

Stay classy, over-zealous supporters of a bad idea.
posted by bardic at 5:12 PM on October 13, 2009


Do you really think, in this country, that a punitive measure that can be applied to white-on-black violence is going to be passed over for black-on-white violence, because the victims weren't a minority? Are you that divorced from reality?

Do you believe that hate crimes are disproportionaitely committed by whites?

Why?
posted by rr at 7:02 PM on October 13, 2009


“Hate-crimes legislation is a terrible idea. But not all people who oppose this legislation are anti-gay. But don't let facts get in the way of your little soapbox displays of righteous anger.”

Because I said all people who oppose the legislation are anti-gay?
But feel free to continue with your dogmatic formulaic responses instead of doing any cognition on the subject.

“It seems to me, that the best way of dissuading others from acting on hate, is probably not to disparage a whole state of people, at the top of your lungs, with profanity.”

Unquestionably. I doubt the ass kicking which followed did much good either. But y’know, berating a gay couple in a region of the city known as ‘boystown,’ then initiating violence, probably not a good idea. And there had been some attacks in that neighborhood. So there was a lot of ugliness floating around. Doesn’t make it excusable, but the primary point is involvement. Not my personal details. Been working on being less violent and confrontational. But I have seen what that kind of stuff can lead to.

“I grew up in Kansas, smedleyman, and your choice of the Sunflower State as an object for vindictive comparison as a base for harboring hate crime mentality is utterly unfounded, in my experience.”

Well, there was that whole Kansas state board of education ruling on teaching evolution at the time. Well before that, the KC police refusing to investigate the murder of Jerry Lee Whitewater, etc. And the laying of the foundations which would eventually lead to stuff like killing Teller, etc. But yeah, Superman is from there, so it’s only the time/place/context thing from that particular event. And it was, I admit, intended to respond to what was essentially a challenge. I was looking to escalate. I wouldn’t say something like that now. Probably just ‘fuck you’ or some such.

“It hardly marks you as a defender of principle, to open an exchange this way.”

Well, y’know, what if I wasn’t there? It’s nice to say stuff like I’m anti-rape or I’m pro-gay rights from behind our computer screens and be all about principle and have our academic discussions, but where’s one’s genuine involvement level when push comes to shove?
I’m not derogating anyone for not being involved in the myriad human issues which are worth attention, but when it’s laid at your doorstep, when its being done in your immediate vicinity, my only point is, it’s not enough to merely disapprove.

Violence is certainly not the answer, I fully agree. But principles are meaningless unless alloy with action. So I’d say I pretty vigorously defended my principles in a situation in which I could have easily – very very easily, simply walked on. And who knows what might have happened? I don't. And I don't much care for leaving anyone to the mercies of a larger group of folks berating them. So I chose to involve myself. And predation did not occur.
Having been in situations where I’ve seen where hateful rhetoric can lead, I’m pretty comfortable with myself and my response. Still have friends in that neighborhood too.
I can say the same about a great many instances in my life. I'm not advocating the means, in all cases, I used. But the results? My commitment to defending what's right, with my own blood if necessary? Yeah, I think that marks me as a defender of principle. And I think I can say I walk the way I talk. Again, I'm working towards more productive responses. I tend to be choleric by nature. Pretty much a lifelong struggle for me. But in this instance though, I was there. You weren't. I made the call. I'm positive I was right. So was my wife. So were the police who didn't charge me or the couple or anyone else on our side.

And again, this issue has zero to do with me. Yes, I have friends who are gay. Yes, I’ve seen outstanding individuals in the military passed over, ignored, and their talents completely wasted simply because of their sexual orientation. But the ‘gay’ element of this is meaningless to me. It could be people with red hair.

What’s dangerous is the hate which most certainly become action. I feel the same way about terrorism. Laws must be passed to facilitate resources being used in prevention. It’s that simple. Otherwise it keeps going and risks becoming yet larger. Or worse, legitimate. (And don’t tell me it couldn’t happen anti-Semitic sentiment became more than just good old fashioned Jew hating in Nazi Germany, it became policy. So too the Serb police in Drenica. What, this is different because it’s ethnic or religious based?)

It’s exactly the same reasoning to form a law enforcement response against terrorism. To do that, you can’t simply have “don’t blow up buildings” laws, but legislation that specifically targets the motives – as abstract as they may seem to some folks – of terrorists.
This is NOT already covered by existing statutes and motive is even more of an issue than the crime itself.
The killing of one or ten or a hundred can terrify thousands or millions and alter their behavior which can catastrophically affect the social landscape, how power is exercised and foster irrationality while degrading the quality of life of the target or perceived target group (folks in D.C. were running through parking lots avoiding the Beltway sniper - millions to one they were being targeted, they were much more likely to be hit by a car while darting in and out of parked vehicles)
The act of murder in that context has an emblematic meaning that a selfish motive doesn’t have. That should be addressed.
It’s not rocket science.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:44 PM on October 15, 2009


Obama Signs Historic Federal LGBT Hate Crimes Legislation (aka the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hates Crimes Prevention Bill).

Judy Shepard:
“When Dennis and I started calling 10 years ago for federal action to prevent and properly prosecute hate crimes against gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans, we never imagined it would take this long,” said Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother and the president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors.

“The legislation went through so many versions and so many votes that we had to constantly keep our hopes in check to keep from getting discouraged,” she continued. “But with President Obama’s support and the continually growing bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate lining up behind the bill this year, it became clear that 2009 was the year it would finally happen.”

The legislation allows federal authorities to pursue charges in violent crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability, in cases where local authorities cannot or will not secure appropriate convictions. It also opens up federal aid to local law enforcement for training, prevention and investigation.

“We are incredibly grateful to Congress and the president for taking this step forward on behalf of hate crime victims and their families, especially given the continuing attacks on people simply for living their lives openly and honestly,” Shepard added. “But each of us can and must do much more to ensure true equality for all Americans.”
posted by ericb at 3:38 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


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