Remembering Matthew Shepard
October 12, 2008 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Ten years ago today gay college student Matthew Shepard died after having been savagely beaten, left alone for 18-hours and found tied to a fence five days prior on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. America was stunned by the vicious hate crime. As his mother, Judy, pushes for passage of the Matthew Shepard Act, advocating for federal hate crimes legislation, and directs the Matthew Shepard Foundation, folks in Laramie ask: "...how has the town changed since 1998? ...how do we measure that change?" And yet 10 years after Matthew's death the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law has not been expanded to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability due to a veto threat by President Bush. posted by ericb (170 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow. Nothing really has changed at all.
FBI statistics show hate crimes motivated by antigay bias have remained at a stable level since Shepard's death. Both in 1998 and in 2006, the latest year for which data are available, roughly 1,200 such crimes were reported - about 16 percent of all reported hate crimes.
Aaand someone calls hate crime legislation "the criminalization of beliefs" in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ...
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:50 PM on October 12, 2008 [6 favorites]


I oppose hate-crime laws. If you punish crimes against some people more, then necessarily it means you punish crimes against other people less. Would my murder be less heinous just because I am not gay?

I believe the law should punish people for what they do, not for what they think.
posted by Class Goat at 12:51 PM on October 12, 2008 [32 favorites]


And someone calls hate crime legislation "the criminalization of beliefs" in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ...

Ding, ding, ding. It took just one minute!
posted by ericb at 12:55 PM on October 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


I have to somewhat agree with Class Goat. A murder is a terrible thing, regardless of what poor reason someone might have. If I were killed by a belligerent drunk, the crime would not be motivated by bias; but it would be just as arbitrary and unjustified as targeting someone for being gay.

Of course the issues more complex than that. I appreciate that hate crimes legislation is supposed to especially punish the attempt to induce fear in targeted populations. Burning crosses was an attempt by the KKK to keep blacks "in their place"; likewise, gay-bashing presents people with fear of publicly displaying aspects of themselves that they should have no fear of hiding. So, there are good reasons for supporting the legislation.

But I have to ask - don't violent crimes affect all of our perceptions of the public sphere? I don't feel much safer knowing that there are crazy fucks who want to beat up homosexuals, as compared to knowing that there are crazy fucks who like hurting people, period.
posted by furious_george at 1:06 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm actually against hate crime legislation because every crime should be considered based on facts. Those facts obviously include the motive for the crime, the circumstances and a number of other things. Some of the facts may point towards a stiffer penalty, such as the ones deserved by McKinney and Henderson.

The problem with legislating groups for special treatment is that you're then deciding that certain groups deserve more protection than others and as society changes that list changes. The Declaration of Independence had it right, "All men are created equal", while the constitution required amendments to get it right.
posted by substrate at 1:08 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


...likewise, gay-bashing presents people with fear of publicly displaying aspects of themselves that they should have no fear of hiding.

*... they should have no fear of sharing publicly.

Whoops.
posted by furious_george at 1:10 PM on October 12, 2008


I believe the law should punish people for what they do, not for what they think.

Here we go ...

Look, if we separate actions from beliefs in the commission of a crime, then any form of discrimination can be easily decriminalized. I didn't hire him because he was black/gay/Unitarian/disabled. So? Those are my beliefs, right? You can't criminalize them.

We have these laws in place for a reason. A murder or a beating does not have the same societal impact that a murder or a beating based on a person's gender, race, religion or sexual orientation does. A murder in a small town makes everyone feel vulnerable - the murder of a gay man in a small town, for being gay, makes the gay people in that town targetted in particular. It is, for all intents and purposes, a broader violation of the civil rights of a minority that has effects that apply throughout the community. Wisconsin v. Mitchell has stood by this. Your right to free speech and free expression are not infringed by hate crime laws.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:12 PM on October 12, 2008 [71 favorites]


Aaand someone calls hate crime legislation "the criminalization of beliefs" in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ...

And someone who condescendingly dismisses a differing point of view before its even mentioned in 5... wait, too late.
posted by spaltavian at 1:15 PM on October 12, 2008 [16 favorites]


And someone who condescendingly dismisses a differing point of view before its even mentioned

Oh, come now. Threads on hate crime invariably lead to that argument being made. It wasn't a dismissal; it was a prediction.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:19 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I believe the law should punish people for what they do, not for what they think.

[...]

I didn't hire him because he was black/gay/Unitarian/disabled. So? Those are my beliefs, right? You can't criminalize them.


That's something you did... Your beliefs are irrelevant in that instance; they translated to action -- inappropriate action.

Killing people is already illegal; it's just pandering to make killing certain types of people "more illegal". I don't care if you kill gay people, white people, black people; you're a killer regardless. I don't need to divide everyone into different categories of "murderer" to feel morally superior and more tolerant.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:23 PM on October 12, 2008 [9 favorites]


I'll throw my hat in the anti-hate-crime ring.

The person(s) directly responsible for Shepard's murder should have been brought to trial in a timely manner, and given a swift, thorough trial by jury of their peers. They should have been found guilty and sentenced accordingly (I for one think that means death penalty, but that's a whole other can of worms).

Statements like this:

A murder or a beating does not have the same societal impact that a murder or a beating based on a person's gender, race, religion or sexual orientation does.

Essentially you just told me that because I'm a straight white Christian male, my murder/beating is of less significance than someone with other physical/psychological/etc. attributes. Their life is worth more than mine? They have more societal impact than I do? Their attackers deserve different judgment than mine would?

I'm sorry but that just sounds horribly hypocritical.

The fact is the entire system is broke and you can't patch it up with flimsy, poorly-thought-out laws like the hate crime ones. You have to fix the whole engine, you can't just keep pouring oil in it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:26 PM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


"The problem with legislating groups for special treatment is that you're then deciding that certain groups deserve more protection than others and as society changes that list changes."

It's not deserving more protection, it's needing more protection. As an example, Obama's blackness doesn't mean he deserves extra Secret Service protection than previous candidates, but it might mean that he's more likely to need Secret Service protection than previous candidates.

Hate crimes do not occur in a vacuum--they, even if not through conscious intent, advance the power of a bigoted ideology. If a drunken man kills someone in a bar fight, it just tells the general public that drunken bar fights are dangerous. If a drunken man kills someone in a bar fight, and it can be shown that he did so because his victim was gay, that sends the message to all gay people that their life may be in danger just for being who they are. Not because they spilled beer on someone's shoes, or screwed up someone's game of pool, but because they were born different.
posted by Benjy at 1:26 PM on October 12, 2008 [10 favorites]


I oppose hate-crime laws. If you punish crimes against some people more, then necessarily it means you punish crimes against other people less.

I once would have agreed with this point of view to some degree, but I've thought better of it. For example this wiki breaks the whole thing down into degrees, with that in mind it would seem like a "hate crime" would be just one more possible strike against the accused. And really the idea of someone killing or harming another simply for being adds a whole level to the crime over and above your run of the mill crimes against a person. To me it matters if someone attacked me or a loved one just because of who we are. I really think it's appropriate to take that into account.
posted by nola at 1:27 PM on October 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Severity of punishment for murders is already classified by intent, ranging
from involuntary manslaughter to first degree murder. Intent is something
that you "think".
I think the presumption with hate crime laws is that you are responsible for
your own hate, and that it is something that you choose, and something
that you can be punished for if it seems to be part of the motive for your
crime.
I'm interested in the assertion that homosexuality is a sin because it is a
matter of choice, and not nature; that hate could be considered something
innate, and outside of an individual's control (the "homosexual panic" defense);
and that hardly anyone is identified more with hatred of homosexuality than
Christians here in the United States.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:28 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


That's something you did... Your beliefs are irrelevant in that instance; they translated to action -- inappropriate action.

My beliefs are fully relevant in that instance. Not hiring a qualifed person was the action. That in itself is not illegal. Not hiring a qualified person because I believe her race/religion/disability makes them less qualified is a belief, and this is illegal.

I don't need to divide everyone into different categories of "murderer" to feel morally superior and more tolerant.

I'm talking about the broader societal impact that hate crimes have here. A hate crime is a violation of civil rights not just of the victim in question, but makes others of that same race/religion/gender or what have you live in a state of fear of a degree greater than the community as a whole, because they in particular are being targetted. This has nothing to do with "feeling moral superiority" and everything to do with safeguarding civil rights.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:29 PM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


Essentially you just told me that because I'm a straight white Christian male, my murder/beating is of less significance than someone with other physical/psychological/etc. attributes.

My understanding is that if your were targeted because you're straight white Christian male that would be a hate crime. I may not understand it fully but that's how I understand it.
posted by nola at 1:30 PM on October 12, 2008 [12 favorites]


If you were beaten and killed for being a straight White Christian Male, and let's say that this was a prevalent problem like violence against gays is, don't you think your friends would feel concerned for their safety? Would be more likely to hide who they were in hopes of escaping bigotry? If you're killed and happen to be straight, White, Christian, and male, that is a tragedy. If you're killed because of that, it's both a tragedy and an indirect threat towards everyone like you.
posted by Benjy at 1:30 PM on October 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


Would my murder be less heinous just because I am not gay?

It depends. If your murder is really targeted at some part of your identity rather than you as an individual, meaning it's intended to make a point about people like you and scare them, then it could be just as heinous. The real difference is that if you are Jewish or Muslim or African-American and are a victim of a hate crime, the law allows motivation to be factored in during the trial. If you're gay or transgender, it can't be. Repealing the entire law is a different question than including another group of often-targeted people in the law.
posted by Tehanu at 1:32 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


My understanding...and I'm not saying it's necessarily the correct way to consider or approach it--is that hate crimes legislation exists in part to overcome the failure of the system to prosecute certain kinds of crime, because of bias that exists at different levels within the justice system. Gays wouldn't need protection with hate crimes legislation if police, judges, and juries consistently took anti-gay crime and threat as seriously as any other. It's a sad fact that there are people, including in law enforcement and the judiciary, who feel that attacking gays is 'less' criminal than other kinds of attack. There are still too many places where a perceived gay come-on is justification enough for good beating, or at least the excuse 'he had it coming.' I pretty much see it i the same category as mandatory-minimum sentencing; it takes away leeway within the system to minimize, under-prosecute, or under-sentence certain kinds of crime.

I'm no lawyer, and perhaps it is ruinous of law to view it this way. But I know there are still problems overcoming systematic bias in prosecuting even domestic violence cases, so I'm not satisfied that it has been overcome when it comes to anti-gay cases.
posted by troybob at 1:32 PM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's not deserving more protection, it's needing more protection.

To those participating in this thread who are implicitly assuming that hate crime legislation is an effective deterrent, I'd be interested to know whether you believe that the death penalty is an effective deterrent.

I'm not saying that liberals necessarily have inconsistent views about crime deterrence. I'm just wondering.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:33 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am in favor of hate-crime laws, although I completely understand why some are not. Laws are meant to enable a more civilized society, one built on respect for others. Targeting hate seems reasonable to me. The crime itself matters, of course, but dissuading the propagation of hate throughout our society is also important. In other words, murder is unequivocally bad, and allowing hate to determine your actions toward others is also bad. Combined, they are worse than either crime is alone and thus, I believe, merit harsher punishment.
posted by jamstigator at 1:34 PM on October 12, 2008


Essentially you just told me that because I'm a straight white Christian male, my murder/beating is of less significance than someone with other physical/psychological/etc. attributes. Their life is worth more than mine?

No. If you were beaten and killed because you are straight, white, Christian or male, than that is a hate crime. Hate crime legislation addresses the commission of a crime due to the basis of race, religion, gender and so on, not which race, religion or gender you happen to be.

You have to fix the whole engine, you can't just keep pouring oil in it.

The whole engine does indeed need fixing, I agree 100%. That doesn't mean that until the day comes when discrimination ends (ha!) we don't defend the civil rights of others.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:34 PM on October 12, 2008 [8 favorites]


That's something you did... Your beliefs are irrelevant in that instance; they translated to action -- inappropriate action.

Sorry, I should further back that up....

By inappropriate, I mean more to the fact that your decision to not hire someone is based on a criteria (assumed to be) unrelated to this hypothetical job. That really doesn't bother me; if those are the beliefs held by someone of power in a company, not hiring that person likely did them a favour. Another employer, willing to look past irrelevant issues such as race / sex / gender etc, will benefit from your loss. (This is ignoring the fact that someone basing hiring decisions on such things is obviously not doing their job correctly; hiring the right people for the job.)

In my own humble opinion, people are free to believe what they want -- no matter how absurd I might find their notions to be. I appreciate loud racists and bigots; it saves me the trouble of getting to know them, only to find out they're hollow to the core. Anti-hate legislation exists here in Canada, and there are still small towns full of racists and bigots; you don't change mentalities through criminalizing them; they change slowly, over time, largely due to derision from the rest of society.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:34 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also anyone using the "as a straight white male I am not as significant" argument should read the FBI report on hate crimes. You are included in the law. 21% of reported hate crimes in 2006 were anti-white. If the law included sexual orientation, it would mean that being attacked for being straight would also be included. Religion and race are already protected, so this includes straight white men already.
posted by Tehanu at 1:36 PM on October 12, 2008 [9 favorites]


It's kind of easy to say that DM when you're not ever (like myself) going to have to walk in those shoes. I don't think anyone should be forced to do anything, except observe and respect other peoples basic civil rights. That's the cost of having rights. Just saying.
posted by nola at 1:41 PM on October 12, 2008


Severity of punishment for murders is already classified by intent, ranging
from involuntary manslaughter to first degree murder. Intent is something
that you "think".


This isn't the same thing. Intent is looked to see what kind of crime you've committed. Premeditated murder is a different crime from a murder of passion, and the difference is intent. If you kill someone for money, you're not being punished because you're greedy and we've decided to criminalize greed itself. Hate crimes laws are punishing bigotry itself.

I would be perfectly fine with saying that since a person is a bigot, we can conclude the crime was premeditated. Or, I'm fine with saying that bigotry is not a mitigating factor; like walking in on your wife sleeping with the tennis instructor would be.

Furthermore, I'm perfectly fine with judges taking motivation into account during sentencing . If an attack on a homosexual, for example, could be argued to have terrorized an population of homosexuals , it's fine to say that makes the criminal especially dangerous to the peace and should have a longer sentence. This is where such considerations of "societal impact" belong.
posted by spaltavian at 1:41 PM on October 12, 2008


Also anyone using the "as a straight white male I am not as significant" argument should read the FBI report on hate crimes. You are included in the law.

They're not looking to be confronted with logic and facts. They're looking to play the "white christian het males are SOOOO oppressed!" game.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:42 PM on October 12, 2008 [17 favorites]


No. If you were beaten and killed because you are straight, white, Christian or male, than that is a hate crime. Hate crime legislation addresses the commission of a crime due to the basis of race, religion, gender and so on, not which race, religion or gender you happen to be.

You're missing the point. Those actions are already against the law. Please, tell me how making them "more against the law" is going to solve anything. (If anything, it will give more ammunition to the real psychos and their mobs; "look my white brothers, the government continues to push the homosexual / black agenda!") People who get motivated to commit crimes usually care very little about what the government has to tell them about what they shouldn't do.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:43 PM on October 12, 2008


Premeditation, conspiracy and insanity are all things of the mind.

Each murder is different, and codifying the things that make it special help advance social justice.

So put me on the "Hate Crimes should be extra illegal because they are extra evil" side of the fence.

I'm also on the "Murder for money is more evil than murder for vengance." side, since murder for money often hurts society more.
posted by poe at 1:47 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Furthermore, I'm perfectly fine with judges taking motivation into account during sentencing . If an attack on a homosexual, for example, could be argued to have terrorized an population of homosexuals , it's fine to say that makes the criminal especially dangerous to the peace and should have a longer sentence. This is where such considerations of "societal impact" belong.

Fortunately, hate crime legislation has been taken all the way to the Supreme Court. It has undergone judicial review, and it has stood.

Please, tell me how making them "more against the law" is going to solve anything. ... People who get motivated to commit crimes usually care very little about what the government has to tell them about what they shouldn't do.

I'd say that what you're arguing against is whether or not legislation can deter crime in the first place, because what you're bringing up here can be applied to any violent crime. But the things we recognize as wrong we establish legislation for not just to deter but to protect. The law is not going to stop one man from killing another if he is so very much inclined, but it the law does deter others, and will put him behind bars for doing the act. Similarly, hate crime legislation - which takes the point of view that assaulting or murdering someone based on their race/gender/religion/etc. hurts not only the immediate victim, but others in that community who share that same race/gender/religion/etc. for putting them in a state of heightened fear a degree greater than the community as a whole - serves to try and deter, certainly, but also to punish for the crime of the aforementioned "assault" on those of the same race/gender/religion/etc.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:52 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


people could always find out exactly what a hate crime law is before they decide they don't support them, right?

a hate crime is essentially two crimes: a crime against an individual, and a crime against the class to which that individual is perceived to belong. a hate crime dehumanizes and instills fear in the targeted class.

hate crimes legislation creates sentencing provisions. if you kill someone, you go to jail. if you kill someone because he's gay, you go to jail. however, the court recognizes that your crime wasn't simply to kill a man, but to terrorize an entire community. in a sense, a hate crime is a form of terrorism.

and in this case, the terrorism works. i think every gay person i know has been terrified at the kind of violence that killed matthew shepard.
posted by klanawa at 1:53 PM on October 12, 2008 [20 favorites]


more against the law

Well that gets back to the degrees of the crime; first degree murder, second, third and forth. Those degrees carry a higher penalty if I understand it right. So then a hate crime would also carry a higher penalty as well. I guess my point is we already break the crime up by degrees why is having the consideration of "this crime was committed simply because the victim was black, or gay, or white for that matter" a problem? Why not punish someone for the crime of murder, and for murdering over identity? Why would we as a society not want to single out that kind of behavor for punishment? It's not like the guy who kills a lover in the heat of passion isn't going to be punished to the degree he broke the law.
posted by nola at 1:53 PM on October 12, 2008


It's kind of easy to say that DM when you're not ever (like myself) going to have to walk in those shoes.

That depends. Discrimination happens every day, on various levels, based on height, weight, age, education, presence of tattoos, political / religious leanings, economic standing, attitude, social connections, etc.

I grew up in a area where, in the public school system, there was no majority; everyone was a minority. Maybe that taught me at an early age that ignorance, and the violence that ensues because of it, is a human trait -- as such, I don't differentiate between hate-crime and "normal crime". It's all wrong, and should be dealt with evenly across the board. But then again, I've also had the race card played against me far too many times.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:53 PM on October 12, 2008


Well that gets back to the degrees of the crime; first degree murder, second, third and forth

And wherein the definitions of those classifications is this gap that hate crimes fall through? Pre-mediated crime against someone, i.e. a hate crime, seems to be satisfied by 1st degree murder.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:55 PM on October 12, 2008


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: Spaltavian: Furthermore, I'm perfectly fine with judges taking motivation into account during sentencing . If an attack on a homosexual, for example, could be argued to have terrorized an population of homosexuals , it's fine to say that makes the criminal especially dangerous to the peace and should have a longer sentence. This is where such considerations of "societal impact" belong.

Fortunately, hate crime legislation has been taken all the way to the Supreme Court. It has undergone judicial review, and it has stood.


This is a bewildering response. You seem to suppose that:

1) I disputed or didn't know this

and/or

2) I am not free to disagree with a Supreme Court decision

Neither supposition is correct.
posted by spaltavian at 1:57 PM on October 12, 2008


.
posted by trip and a half at 1:58 PM on October 12, 2008


Discrimination happens every day, on various levels, based on height, weight, age, education, presence of tattoos, political / religious leanings, economic standing, attitude, social connections, etc.

Oh, oh, now do "I'm colourblind. I don't see race." I love that one!
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:58 PM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


Essentially you just told me that because I'm a straight white Christian male, my murder/beating is of less significance than someone with other physical/psychological/etc. attributes. Their life is worth more than mine?

Oh and one other fault with this argument: punishing two murders with differing severity does not imply that the justice system values one of the two victims' lives more than the other. (Of course, in certain places and at certain times in history different kinds of murder victim are/were valued differently. But the point is that following your argument to its logical conclusion, there'd be no justification ever for differing murder sentences, which is just silly.)

Please, tell me how making them "more against the law" is going to solve anything.

Again, just to address this on an almost ridiculously basic level, there is nothing absurd in the notion of making something more against the law; the scare quotes aren't justified. Different crimes are punished differently. Whether a hate-crime murder is sufficiently different from a non-hate-crime murder to count as a different crime is something reasonable people can argue about. But that we as a society apply different punishments to different crimes and do indeed think that this will serve a useful social purpose... that's not really arguable.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:59 PM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


a hate crime is essentially two crimes: a crime against an individual, and a crime against the class to which that individual is perceived to belong. a hate crime dehumanizes and instills fear in the targeted class

Killing people makes me fearful, as I am also a person. I'm not trying to me smug here; it's rather silly to assume that someone who kills a black person wouldn't have the same capacity to kill a white person. Last I checked, skinheads kill each other in jail too.)
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:59 PM on October 12, 2008


Of course, spaltavian, you're free to disagree with the Supreme Court decision and I never said you weren't. But since you stated that such decisions belong in the courtroom, I thought I should point out that the concept as a whole has been studied by the highest court in the land, and found constitutional. My apologies if this insulted your intelligence.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:01 PM on October 12, 2008


Hate crime legislation does not marginalize white hetero christian men; rather, it recognizes that for a very, very long time continuing up to the present day, non-WHCM citizens have been denied and continue to be denied the full protections of their country's laws.

It's not telling white xtian dudes they don't matter, it's telling everyone else they matter just as much as straight white xtian dudes.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:02 PM on October 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


First of all, I'd like to honor Matthew Shepard and say what a horrendous, tortuous murder that was. I'm so sorry he was murdered at all, particularly for simply being gay, especially so young and that way. My condolences to his family and friends.

I think murders like his are what made Brokeback Mountain an important movie for Americans to see and discuss. I like the new ads encouraging kids to think before they speak and not use "it's so gay" as an insult.

It's worth thinking about murder in terms of hate crime because typically murder is not serial, mass slaughter or trying to eradicate a human being based on their gender, on adult, ie victimless sexual preferences, religion, color, social background as part of a type of social or ethnic "cleansing", which is what hate crime is about, a vision that the world could be better without certain groups of people, usually, who are born that way or into that group.

Hate crime is different because of what it leads to as an en masse event. Mob violence has a sort of pack or gang momentum and tends to bring out the worst in people.

Example: Nazi America: A Secret History

The term heinous, as in heinous crime, comes from the root "to hate".

A, imo, brilliant scientist and a forensic psychiatrist, Michael Welner, is working on creating a legal tool, practical for use in court, called The Depravity Scale, or Depravity Standard.

He says:
But courts already distinguish the worst of crimes, and use words like "heinous," "atrocious" and "vile" to decide that someone warrants greater punishment - even the death penalty. If we as a society have to separate unusual crimes for greater or lesser punishment, we have to have a fair, consistent way of doing so.


Ending this with a hopeful thought and song for Matthew Shepard: Sam Cooke's - A Change Is Gonna Come.
posted by nickyskye at 2:03 PM on October 12, 2008 [8 favorites]


Hate crimes laws are punishing bigotry itself.

No, bigotry itself is never illegal, thanks to the first amendment. You can be a bigot, and you can even express your bigotry (marches, pamphlets, picketing funerals) with no legal repercussions.

Hate crimes laws punish people who pursue their bigoted agenda by means of violence. And that larger agenda is what makes hate crimes different from random violence.
posted by PlusDistance at 2:03 PM on October 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


So why is inciting a riot against the law?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:04 PM on October 12, 2008


And wherein the definitions of those classifications is this gap that hate crimes fall through? Pre-mediated crime against someone, i.e. a hate crime, seems to be satisfied by 1st degree murder.

And I would say that's how I looked at it for a while. I guess I just think that someone who premeditated killing for money or some kind of inter-personal grievance is bad enough but killing someone for simply existing is a whole other ball of wax. I'm saying the motive is even more pernicious because of the senselessness. It is, hard to believe, worse than being motivated to kill for money, ect. Just my opinion, I get were you're coming from. But I just can't see a down side to it so that's why I don't have a problem with it.
posted by nola at 2:06 PM on October 12, 2008


If the government were to approve of hate crime legislation, it would send a clear signal to the rest of the country that persecuting homosexuals is not okay. I grew up in a small town, and homophobia there is still rampant. I remember when Matthew Shepard was killed, and the consensus was that it was a shame, but he had it coming because he'd hit on his attackers.

He'd had it coming? It made me wonder how many of my neighbors would do the same thing, under the circumstances, because so many people in this country are terrified and hateful of homosexuals. The government needs to take a stand like other civilized nations and condemn bigotry.

Look, I understand the arguments against hate crime legislation, and I hope that one day we won't need it. But I think right now, we do.
posted by jnaps at 2:06 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


No offense taken, Marisa Stole the Precious Thing.
posted by spaltavian at 2:07 PM on October 12, 2008


I like the new ads encouraging kids to think before they speak and not use "it's so gay" as an insult.

As seen and discussed in this fine FPP!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:07 PM on October 12, 2008


I mean why not slap another penalty on some criminal asshat for murder, and for being a stupid jerk too. What's the matter, are you soft on crime ;) ?
posted by nola at 2:10 PM on October 12, 2008


PlusDistance: Spaltavian:Hate crimes laws are punishing bigotry itself.

No, bigotry itself is never illegal, thanks to the first amendment ...
Hate crimes laws punish people who pursue their bigoted agenda by means of violence.


I understand your argument, but bear in mind that, in my view, hate crime laws are in violation of the 1st Amendment for reasons touched upon the rest of my post you quoted.
posted by spaltavian at 2:10 PM on October 12, 2008


Is this where I mention how "awesome" it is to feed zoo animals to a croc? 'Cause this thread has that same great vibe.
posted by maxwelton at 2:14 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I never liked the notion of "hate crime" for the simple reason hate is the motive for most murders anyway. And the notion doesn't just say some lives are worth more than others, but it has a stench of victim-blaming -- it implies that if someone wasn't gay, he wouldn't have been killed. Murder is murder.

It still puts the blame squarely on the victim and it gives killers an excuse -- are we saying that if there weren't people who were gay or female or of different races and religions, there would be less murder? That all those terrible tendencies are triggered by a victim? I don't buy that for a second.

Because killers always blame the victim for their deaths -- and with the Shepard murder -- here was a small, lithe young man taken by TWO guys -- would they have tried the same stunt if Shepard was six foot five and two hundred fifty pounds of pure muscle? I don't think so. They didn't kill Matthew Shepard because he was gay -- they killed him because they were two sick and pathetic cowards who did nothing with their lives and they found someone weaker than they were.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 2:15 PM on October 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


A hate crime is one expression of our species' nascent tribalism. In today's society, tribalism really has no purpose for existence; we are 20, or 200, or 2000 million people, not just a few dozen. We cannot go around hating each other based on millennias-old xenophobism; it's detrimental to individuals and society as a whole.

It's my firm belief, then, that anything we can do to discourage tribalistic behaviour, especially its negative expression, is a good thing. That said, "hate crime" from a legal perspective should probably not be anything more than cranberry sauce -- never used on its own but an extra oomph on a traditional criminal charge.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:16 PM on October 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


If the government were to approve of hate crime legislation, it would send a clear signal to the rest of the country that persecuting homosexuals is not okay.

I disagree. Lots of things are illegal (drugs, underage drinking, prostitution), but people pursue them anyway. In the end, laws are suggestions; people obey them at their leisure -- whether or not they know / care about the consequences.

What everyone seems to want is social change. Awesome. I'm in favour of that; but I'd rather see people be more vocal about challenging bigotry, than looking the other way when they see it happening in front of them and expecting the government. (And potentially Officer Queer Hater being in charge of dispensing it.)
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:18 PM on October 12, 2008



Killing people makes me fearful, as I am also a person. I'm not trying to me smug here; it's rather silly to assume that someone who kills a black person wouldn't have the same capacity to kill a white person. Last I checked, skinheads kill each other in jail too.)

Capacity to kill a black/white person isn't the issue. To suggest that is just being disingenuous. Pretty much anybody has the capacity to kill another person given the right circumstance, there's no silly assumption being made there. If capacity alone causes fear, likelihood (propensity, inclination, what have you) causes more fear. Yeah there's some sort of assumption being made there, but it's not about capacity.
posted by juv3nal at 2:18 PM on October 12, 2008


....expecting the government to fix it.

OOPS!
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:18 PM on October 12, 2008


I'm in favour of that; but I'd rather see people be more vocal about challenging bigotry, than looking the other way when they see it happening in front of them and expecting the government [to fix it]. (And potentially Officer Queer Hater being in charge of dispensing it.)

Why can we not have both? We often call upon our government to help "fix" societal ills (illiteracy, poverty, etc.) while at the same time working on reversing them at a grassroots level. Government action and grassroots action are not mutually exclusive.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:24 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dark Messiah, what you're saying would make sense, except for this little thing called history. The United States of America is a 600 year case study in exactly why you're wrong.

Are hate crime laws a magic bullet against intolerance? Of course not. But we gotta aim in that direction. We have to. For those who have some sort of ideological resistance to the idea of hate crimes, why can't you find some other expression of that ideology to hang your argument on? Like Copyright law, or kids getting kicked out of school for wearing Marilyn manson t-shirts. Otherwise you're just planting your flag on a very rotten hill.
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:24 PM on October 12, 2008


Is it not enough to say that the larger punishment for the crime is a deterrent? (And keep in mind that added punishment is not the only element of hate-crime legislation; i think it also has to do with monitoring its frequency, identifying trends, and instituting preventative/educational measures.) This is one of the main arguments in favor of the death penalty, that it is a deterrent to particularly violent forms of crime; not to mention that it is an extra layer of punishment reserved for a certain threshold of crime (as is life sentencing, as are hate-crime sentencing provisions). I think there are many more reasons and justifications for it, but i think it's quite enough to say that hate-crime punishment is justified because there are enough people who think that the hate-based aspect of the crime justifies or excuses the crime itself, and that belief is something that should be discouraged.
posted by troybob at 2:27 PM on October 12, 2008


"An 8 year old girl was beaten to death to day by a man name unknown. The killing is believed to be motivated by the girls Christian faith. This as the body count for young Christian children being targeted by militant athists has reached 34. Film at 11.
/ fiction


I'm guessing that sort of story would change a bunch of peoples minds about "hate crime"
posted by nola at 2:28 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I lived in Laramie for a time after this occurred (went to college at the University there) and I have to say that the town always felt like a friendly place. I had openly gay friends in college and it didn't seem to worry them. There were a substantial number of people in the area (maybe half?) who thought that the media depiction of it was inaccurate - they tended to view it as being meth-related violence. I don't know if they were right or not.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:39 PM on October 12, 2008


There's another reason to call all this a hate crime.

Take a look at this video.

Although the US is still a very racist country, the fact that racism is wrong has now seeped through all of society in a way that makes this particular guy in the video very aware that his own racist feelings are, in fact, wrong.

Homophobia hasn't reached that point yet, witness the resistance to gay marriage, but it should.

If the concept of "hate crime" helps society evolve to a point where everybody, including the people who hate gays, know that it is wrong, that's fine with me, even if the arguments against hate crimes have a point, the added value of helping society grow up make it worth it.

Next up: a society that not only knows racism/homophobia is wrong, but one that actually wonders: "wait, what? people hated blacks? Why on earth did they do that?"
posted by DreamerFi at 2:44 PM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


hey, I can dream, right?
posted by DreamerFi at 2:45 PM on October 12, 2008


While I believe that bigots and misogynists should never feel free to hurt and kill the objects of their hate, I worry about severe hate-crime laws for the same reason I'm concerned about prosecuting another kind of violent crime, rape, in an especially vindictive way, and why I hate defining the murder of a pregnant woman as two murders; because if you make the definition and punishment for that kind of crime severe enough, NO ONE will ever be convicted of it and the people who accuse others of the crime WILL BE punished for alleging such an awful thing. Often families protect child abusers and vilify their victims because the punishment and the shame is so potentially powerful.
posted by Peach at 2:45 PM on October 12, 2008


Next up: a society that not only knows racism/homophobia is wrong, but one that actually wonders: "wait, what? people hated blacks? Why on earth did they do that?"

Five years ago I didn't think that being able to marry my partner would happen in my lifetime, so I don't want to push it. But I remember as a kid being horrified viewing TV images of open, proud racism from the 50s and 60s. I hope I'll be lucky enough to see the day when kids view the anti-gay thing with much the same horror.
posted by troybob at 2:50 PM on October 12, 2008


Why do you need federal hate-crime law? Isn't this a state issue?
posted by smackfu at 2:51 PM on October 12, 2008


Isn't this a problem that can be solved through sentencing guidelines rather than separate laws? That has always been my problem with it -- the crime is murder, not hate. I have no problem with neo-nazis getting harder sentences than bank robbers.
posted by Edgewise at 2:59 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was rather young when this happened. I remember reading about it in the newspaper. It happened around the same time three men from Texas killed James Byrd Jr. by dragging him from the back of their pick-up truck.

Sad, scary world. Very sad, very scary world.
posted by milarepa at 3:00 PM on October 12, 2008


Federal hate-crime law only applies to federal cases. States have their own degrees (or lack) of hate-crime legislation. Maybe someone else can speak to this, but I have a vague sense that federal law at some point can intervene when the state fails to prosecute a crime; I don't know if this is true, however, or at what point hate-crime legislation would come into play, if so.
posted by troybob at 3:00 PM on October 12, 2008


Also, aren't there strong reasons to think that Shepherd was not really killed for being gay, but rather for meth money?
posted by Edgewise at 3:03 PM on October 12, 2008


Dark Messiah: Killing people makes me fearful, as I am also a person. I'm not trying to me smug here; it's rather silly to assume that someone who kills a black person wouldn't have the same capacity to kill a white person.

I'm fascinated by the world in which you live. Can I have its Stargate coordinates, please?

Yes, straight guys do not have 100% immunity from gay-bashing slope-brows. They could take a bead on you for merely thinking you're gay. Maybe you just had some sort of mouth surgery and you've got a bit of a lisp. Maybe you hurt your leg or hip and you swish a little too much when you walk. Maybe you're dressed a little too fancy. Yes, it's possible. I don't think anyone's trying to deny that.

But you can't in good conscience be saying that, upon hearing of a bashing, you experience the same degree of fear as your gay neighbour. Are you going to stop walking in the park with your girlfriend because you heard about a gay guy getting beat up? Are you going to stop going to your favourite club because you heard about a guy getting the shit kicked out of him outside a gay bar?

Do you buy extra strong locks, stock up on mace, take self-defense courses, and generally fear for the integrity of your anal sphincter when there's news of a serial rapist in your area, too?
posted by CKmtl at 3:07 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Edgewise, I think it's pretty obvious he was targeted because he was gay. There are much easier ways to get meth money.

I would say there has been progress among a great many people, and the personally I encounter less homophobia than I did ten years ago.

But the militant homophobes are every bit as strong as they were, and if anything, they are more pissed at progress we've been making. Personally, I am less willing to go to a Red state now. I've turned down scholarships and jobs in Kansas and rural Ohio, and I really wouldn't go to Wyoming. However, I would not necessarily assume that people from those places are so bad.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:08 PM on October 12, 2008


Also anyone using the "as a straight white male I am not as significant" argument should read the FBI report on hate crimes. You are included in the law. 21% of reported hate crimes in 2006 were anti-white.

This makes it better? Someone kills John down the street because he's a white male. Someone kills my dad or my brother or my son -- or me -- because they think he/I looked at him funny. The first is worse than the second? Deserving of more punishment? This isn't like different degrees of murder/manslaughter at all. Hunting someone down and killing them, compared to "spur of the moment" loss of control, vs. pure accident is a matter of differing moral weight. Premeditated murder is premeditated murder. If this is about fear, should we punish those who murder gang members less harshly? After all, everyone breathes a sigh of relief when we find out that a murder in our city was gang-related, don't we? Cause we have no such affiliation, and so don't expect that we could have been the target.

How about rape? Let's punish rape differently based on the intent of the person. And hey, if you're victimized by someone who isn't doing it for the worst possible reason, they get off a little lighter. That seems just, doesn't it?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:09 PM on October 12, 2008


Also, aren't there strong reasons to think that Shepherd was not really killed for being gay, but rather for meth money?

I think that's one of the more interesting aspects of the case. There are reasons to think it might have been motivated by drugs/money, but the killers tried to use Shepard's sexuality as a defense. The way I view it, in either case they committed a hate crime--either by attacking someone because he was gay, or by trying to play the system such that they could get lighter sentences by saying they were doing it because he was gay.
posted by troybob at 3:10 PM on October 12, 2008


So why is inciting a riot against the law?

That's a good question. You're only expressing personal beliefs, not committing any violence. Why is inciting a riot not protected under the First Amendment?

We do accept in some cases that "speech" magnifies the effects of violence and is therefore not protected. So we do have hate crime legislation, of a sort.

The only reason that current proposed hate crime legislation is disliked is because the gays are involved. It doesn't really have anything to do with making one murder worth less than another, whatever that means, but its really about putting uppity gays/blacks/Jewish minorities in their place as subhumans, as usual.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:11 PM on October 12, 2008


The goons still exist, for sure, but gayness increasingly accepted, as witnessed by the gay-focused TV shows...If for no other reason: gay people have a lot of expendable income.
posted by Postroad at 3:12 PM on October 12, 2008


Hate crime legislation does not marginalize white hetero christian men..., it's telling everyone else they matter just as much as straight white xtian dudes.

THIS.
posted by droplet at 3:13 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are much easier ways to get meth money.

gesamtkunstwerk (thank god for cut and paste!), I think the police chief said it right: "But, we will never, ever know because Matt’s dead and I don’t trust what [McKinney and Henderson] said." There are definitely easier ways to make money, but tweakers (and people in general) are not always the most rational creatures. Either way, I think you can make a strong case for the irrationality and depravity of the murderers, so I don't rule out either explanation.

The way I view it, in either case they committed a hate crime--either by attacking someone because he was gay, or by trying to play the system such that they could get lighter sentences by saying they were doing it because he was gay.

So should that be a crime? I don't think you're saying that...I'm just trying to point out that this case might not be the best symbol for those pressing for hate crime laws.
posted by Edgewise at 3:19 PM on October 12, 2008


THIS

IS RIDICULOUS


There's no way you can tell me that punishing the attackers of one group more than the attackers of another is valuing the victims equally.

At least Marisa's idea, in punishing in part due to motivation for the act, is victim-neutral. But punishing simply according to who you happen to be as a victim, as Alvy was championing? As a sign that we're all equal? Uh huh. Black is white. Up is down.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:22 PM on October 12, 2008


gesamtkunstwerk: Edgewise, I think it's pretty obvious he was targeted because he was gay. There are much easier ways to get meth money.

Drug addicts committing murder in the course of robberies or muggings are not exactly rare, so apparently not everyone has figured that principle out.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:22 PM on October 12, 2008


So should that be a crime?

Not strictly. I'm only inclined to say that because they simultaneously (1) attempted to benefit from and (2) perpetuated a popular notion that killing someone for being gay isn't as bad as killing somebody for drugs or money. I mean, it's a crime to the extent that they lied to police and prosecutors about their motivations, if that's considered a crime. But in the karmic sense, I'm not particularly bothered if they got stung by their own lie, considering the assumptions underlying their dishonesty.
posted by troybob at 3:26 PM on October 12, 2008


Murder is usually (though not always) about hate and rage. So is your basic assault and battery.

Say I kill Todd. Todd was gay. That hate crime charge will appear (because prosecutors show such restraint in ladeling on charges) and cannot be proven otherwise. Now, maybe I did it because I'm an angry guy and Todd was a serious jerk. Maybe Todd borrowed my pickup to move a sofa and dinged a fender. Prosecution goes on to paint me as a homophobe. Hell, I've got a pickup truck. We know what guys with pickups are like!

Oh, maybe I'm a gay man who killed Todd after the pickup incident. Crime of passion. Prosecution paints me as a self-loathing homosexual who finally vented his rage on someone else. Even if we were boyfriends, I'd still get hit with that charge. It's pretty hard to escape the hate crime finger once it has been pointed. It's right up there with stating that the only evidence necessary to convict for a charge of sexual harassment is that someone is willing to say they feel harassed. It's dangerous because it lacks a standard for hard evidence.

Basically, I am against hate crime legislation as it stands because:

1) It can presume some mind-reading. Motivation for crimes is sometimes known, sometimes not. Nobody will amend the law to say, " ... and the perpetrator must have yelled, with witnesses present, 'homo,' 'dyke,' 'faggot,' ..." It would be hard to prove without it, so default guilt will be assumed.

2) Consequently, prosecutors will inevitably add this charge relating to any victim in the superset of protected minorities. Gay? Add it on. Black? Add it on. Female? Add it on. Mormon? Add it on. Elderly? Add it on. And it would habe to be adjusted for the location, too. Hate crime as a concept will not mean much, the same way the abuse of RICO and the PATRIOT Act laugh at their original intent. You think not? Prosecutors are already taking bits from the PATRIOT Act to go after drug dealers. Maybe drug dealers are terrorists, if you squint your eyes and try real hard. Anything that can be added to the list of charges will be added to the list of charges.

Hate crime legislation differs from murder and its degrees because a defendant is not handed a charge of "killing this dude" and an additional charge of "planning it out in cold blood." It's a singular charge. To make hate crimes like murder charges in that intent is built in, we would have to have a basic "felony battery" charge for victims not in the superset of victims and a potential "felony battery with the intent to terrorize a given populace," and you cannot be given both for the same crime. I'm not even that comfortable with intent for murder. I'd prefer if they could stick to "was an accident" or "was not an accident."

Hate crimes as proposed and how they stand now invent a new set of crimes that layer over as additions to already existing charges and define these crimes as terrorism of a selected populace.

I'm pretty well done with terrorism as an excuse to add new and exciting charges to already existing events because the last few years are a parade of ridiculous things which happen when you create a crime based on what someone's reactions might be. "We're scared of boxes with blinking lights! We're terrorized! You're now a terrorist!" Thank you, Boston. I want evidence, not argument; I want facts, not someone saying they were scared.

Let's not kid ourselves: That extra layer of criminalization juice society likes to add leads to some very stupid stuff. Let's take child pornography. This is relevant because children are put in the special victims box and we like to let our emotions override our intellects when it comes to some things. Right now, in Ohio, a fifteen year old girl who took some naughty photos of herself is now facing the prospect of being a registered sex offender for the next decade. She's a child pornographer now. It's ridiculous, it's Kafkaesque, and the prosecutors are still going for it.

We have murder in the Shepard case; convict on the murder. These are not guys who are big, long-term thinkers who planned out a campaign of fear (that is, terrorism). You know what really sends a message to terrify a subset of a populace? When law enforcement does not properly prosecute on basic assault charges because of the victim's race, gender, or orientation. Fix that, deal with the "homosexual panic" guys (and what a can of worms that is!), then see where we're at. Right now, our basic model is broken. We cannot fix that by adding more bad law on top of it.

Remove the mind-reading-as-evidence aspect and the way it will turn into an automatic charge, I might be on board, but I have a hard time figuring out how that can be done.
posted by adipocere at 3:29 PM on October 12, 2008 [8 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist: I can't find a source (except for one from Israel re: Arab murder victims killed by Israelis), but when the victim of a murder is a minority and the offender is not, typically the sentencing isn't as harsh. So if anything, a hate crime law would just even out the already lighter sentencing that white murderers get.
posted by tumbleweedjack at 3:39 PM on October 12, 2008


god this is weird and getting annoying...

if it's not apparent to you immediately that some people are targeted and subjected to all kinds of persecution, execution, control and deemed worthy of extermination by the rest of the genneral population and thus in need of extra protection(s) then please back the fuck up while the rest of move forward.

even if it isn't the majority of society's members who are participating in heinous acts against others based on judgments passed from their bigotries (real or imagined in cause) as long as there are a sufficient number of people participating in these acts then we have the motivation to do something about these acts.

isn't it true that the narrative of a society is just as causal as the acts of a populace in defining what we believe and how we live? if that's the case, and i am pretty darn sure it is, then we need certain laws simply to establish that you, as a citizen, are a member of the franchise and we take you seriously enough to remind the dimwits we harbor that you are to be respected just like their blood kin.

taken from that standpoint it makes more sense to me why we have any laws at all.
posted by artof.mulata at 3:40 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Establishing an act as a hate crime has as much a burden of proof as any other criminal charge. That burden of proof is not met merely by establishing that the victim is in a particular group. It is not as if non-violent cases of discrimination have had to resort to 'mind-reading-as-evidence' to establish intent, and one does not commit murder or assault as a first expression of anti-whatever bias; by the time someone gets to that point, they've probably been soaking in it such that evidence isn't going to be hard to come by.
posted by troybob at 3:54 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


But punishing simply according to who you happen to be as a victim, as Alvy was championing? As a sign that we're all equal? Uh huh. Black is white. Up is down.

Hate legislation recognizes the inherent imbalances in a system that has valued one group of people over all others for hundreds of years. Attempting to give those undervalued, marginalized, or disenfranchised people protections which may not be applicable to the mainstream or dominant citizens isn't unfair, it's addressing institutional and cultural prejudices and empowering people in an attempt to create a truly egalitarian society.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:54 PM on October 12, 2008


I'm not thrilled about creating special classes of people to be protected but I see Hate Crime Laws as a necessary evil. It would be awesome if all our crimes were simply random acts that happen in a vacuum. It would be awesome if Tito Ortiz had to worry about being raped as much as my wife. Or if Bill Gates had to worry as much about being impoverished by Nigerian Spam Scammers as my 70 year old mom. But that's not how it works.

But the sad fact is most of our crime is ultimately all too predictable. The predictable result of members of our society who have been rendered increasingly vulnerable to one sort of group of exploiters or another. We have solid data on which identity groups are gonna get robbed, raped, and murdered the most. And as the saying goes shit rolls down hill — and it becomes a vicious cycle. The more vulnerable you are the less likely you are to see justice get done and then more vulnerable you are. Something has to intervene somewhere.

Forcing the criminal justice system to recognize that they are dealing with a member of vulnerable group is the only way for that group to get justice in many cases.
posted by tkchrist at 3:56 PM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


if it's not apparent to you immediately that some people are targeted and subjected to all kinds of persecution, execution, control and deemed worthy of extermination by the rest of the genneral population and thus in need of extra protection(s) then please back the fuck up while the rest of move forward.


See, I think this is the chafe point of the whole discussion, especially since it's not really the reason for hate crime legislation. Hate crime laws are not about weak/strong or majority/minority *at all*. They address targeting individuals as representative of a group, but that can be any group. Hate laws are written to protect democratic society:

"Crimes motivated by invidious hatred toward particular groups not only harm individual victims but send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all members of the group to which the victim belongs. Hate crimes can and do intimidate and disrupt entire communities and vitiate the civility that is essential to healthy democratic processes."

Hate crime law can apply to anyone- white, Lutheran, female, Republican, &c. All that matters is that the vistim was targeted , rightly or wrongly, for belonging to some collection of people. However, when people put it in terms of there being special groups who deserve extra protection, it's no wonder people disagree.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:57 PM on October 12, 2008


Why is it terrorism for the conservatives and hate crime for the liberals? To my mind it's basically the same thing, but hate crime legislation is a deeply flawed attempt to fix an intractable problem, and is as much about perception and politics as justice. However, I don't have any better solutions to offer, and I don't really see where there is much of a downside to hate-crime legislation. I'm reluctantly for it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:02 PM on October 12, 2008


However, when people put it in terms of there being special groups who deserve extra protection, it's no wonder people disagree.

This is an excellent point, oneirodynia, although I'm still not a fan of hate-crime legislation (HCL). My problem is when you make hatred of a group an intrinsic crime unto itself -- yes, I know it has to be linked to another felony, but, as I said before, I don't see why this can't be accommodated with sentencing guidelines.
posted by Edgewise at 4:03 PM on October 12, 2008


Alvy Ampersand wrote: Attempting to give those undervalued, marginalized, or disenfranchised people protections which may not be applicable to the mainstream or dominant citizens isn't unfair, it's addressing institutional and cultural prejudices and empowering people in an attempt to create a truly egalitarian society.

Ok, I think I read you now. The harsher penalty is intended to offset societal vulnerability (either because the group is more of a target or is perhaps less assisted by our system for whatever reason) -- the end goal being equality of (ideally diminished) vulnerability. I guess that makes sense.

That being the case, I would suggest that, for the time being at least, the murder of Muslims be punished most severely.
Generally Arab-looking people maybe a step below that.
Jews are certainly targets of hate crimes, but hardly "societally vulnerable", at least in our society, so their killers could receive comparatively light sentences.
Maybe gay men next, though killers of gay women clearly would receive some lesser penalty, as there is the oft-noted
difference in vulnerability between these two groups.
Native ("Indian") people should probably be next, if not above gay men. Incredible society-wide vulnerability.
Killers of black men and women might receive a sentence in this range (or should it be higher in the South?).
Other foreign-looking victims perhaps here.
At some point, you'd have the penalty for killers of white women which would be comparatively light.
And then killers of white men, even lighter.

Of course money is a huge (negative) correlate of vulnerability,
so a person should probably get a lighter sentence for murdering, say, a middle-class Jew than a poor Jew.

All equal, of course. Just some more equal than others.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:10 PM on October 12, 2008


But punishing simply according to who you happen to be as a victim, as Alvy was championing?

The simple fact that a victim is a minority does not make a crime a hate crime.

...but I suspect you know that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:11 PM on October 12, 2008


Why is it terrorism for the conservatives and hate crime for the liberals? To my mind it's basically the same thing, but hate crime legislation is a deeply flawed attempt to fix an intractable problem, and is as much about perception and politics as justice. However, I don't have any better solutions to offer, and I don't really see where there is much of a downside to hate-crime legislation. I'm reluctantly for it.

This is pretty much where I'm at too- because I'm not really convinced that sentencing harshness or leniency makes a big difference to the sorts of people who commit these crimes. I'd be interested to see if HCL is effective in sending a larger message to society as a whole. I think it might be; but not if it's communicated as "some people deserve more protection".
posted by oneirodynia at 4:15 PM on October 12, 2008


Pope Guilty: The simple fact that a victim is a minority does not make a crime a hate crime.

...but I suspect you know that.


I remarked (explicitly!) at the difference between what Marisa was arguing for (hate crime legislation) and Alvy (punishment based strictly on group membership of victim).

But I suspect you know that.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:17 PM on October 12, 2008


BrotherCaine, I think you're on to something there. Maybe by explaining to conservatives that 9/11 was, in fact, a hate crime against Americans, they'd understand that any group can be a victim of a hate crime, not just a minority.

Reading through this entire thread has actually led me to this: hate crime = terrorism = hate crime. Am I the only one who feels that way?
posted by tumbleweedjack at 4:19 PM on October 12, 2008


That's quite the extrapolation. Do you actually have anything of substance to say, rather than just insulting exaggerations?

All equal, of course. Just some more equal than others.

You're one of those people who think affirmative action, equity laws, and Black History Month are inherently racist, aren't you?
See? I can play that game, too!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:22 PM on October 12, 2008


I don't see why this can't be accommodated with sentencing guidelines.

Because there's no way to do a federal law to adjust sentencing guidelines for state crimes, and if the states thought it needed to be explicated rather than left to the discretion of the judge they'd have done it already?
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:25 PM on October 12, 2008


"To those participating in this thread who are implicitly assuming that hate crime legislation is an effective deterrent, I'd be interested to know whether you believe that the death penalty is an effective deterrent."

Sorry for the delay, went out for dinner...

I'm not completely sure of its effectiveness as a deterrent, but I support the death penalty. I believe it be executed (pun intended) in a much better manner, but I have no trouble saying that certain heinous crimes are worthy of death. I feel similarly about Hate Crime legislation--I believe there is room for abuse by prosecutors, and that certain legal protections should be in place for the accused, but ultimately I have little sympathy for those found guilty, by a jury, of expressing violence due to bigotry.

The intent of the laws are good--if you can't agree with me on that point, I don't think we'll be able to see eye to eye. I won't pretend they're perfect, and I think a lot of the complaints voiced by Hate Crime opponents would be addressed if they would focus on establishing adequate legal protections for the accused (this country is certainly in need of them these days).

On a philosophical level, I would be opposed to both Hate Crime legislation and the death penalty, but if the world operated in terms of my ideal philosophy, neither would be necessary. I understand how it may seem to be an unequal administration of justice, by justice is a concept that exists in (and because of?) an unfair world.
posted by Benjy at 4:27 PM on October 12, 2008


oneirodynia i couldn't agree with you more when you wrote this: "They address targeting individuals as representative of a group, but that can be any group. Hate laws are written to protect democratic society..."

but isn't the law constructed that way out of just need? we start from the particular and move to the general? a certain need is realized and then some smarty pants goes, "oh duh! we can't just make it for the ***; it could do a lot help the ****, too."

am i coming across clearly here? i hope so. that's how we can approach these ideals and keep them functional within the rubric of a republic. nobody has to feel singled out by the properly functional laws, ones that we construct without the air of expediency like RICO and the Patriot Act (as mentioned earlier in the thread). if we take the time to think these things through they can be functional enough to serve us and not be served against us.

(i'm making myself sick here. this sort of rationalist, defend the policy system thing is making me feel like some kind of sly patriot apologist. while i believe in the statements i'm making i don't believe in the state or the State and i just want to make that clear before anybody decides to put me on the list of those to be put up against the wall when the fall inevitably comes.)
posted by artof.mulata at 4:30 PM on October 12, 2008


I never liked the notion of "hate crime" for the simple reason hate is the motive for most murders anyway. And the notion doesn't just say some lives are worth more than others, but it has a stench of victim-blaming -- it implies that if someone wasn't gay, he wouldn't have been killed. Murder is murder.

It still puts the blame squarely on the victim and it gives killers an excuse -- are we saying that if there weren't people who were gay or female or of different races and religions, there would be less murder? That all those terrible tendencies are triggered by a victim? I don't buy that for a second.


There's a lot wrong with this. First of all, "hate" probably isn't anything like the motivation for murder that some may think. Most individual murders are committed against people known to the killers and on generally friendly terms (or loving terms, as with family members.) Momentary fits of rage, arguments over money or infidelity and so on - most of these have nothing to do with "hate." The reality is that "hate crime" legislation would apply to a relatively small number of homicidal incidents.

And murder isn't just murder. But ironically, in light of what I just wrote, my parents were killed because of hate. In part this hate was propelled by the fact that they were likely to be (and in fact were) "Muslim." But this was an accident - they were not targeted specifically, but as the somewhat random result of a shell targeting civilians. But the result was pretty much the same. If they hadn't been Muslim, the likelihood of their being killed would have been much less; as Orthodox or Catholic Christians, they would have been much less likely to lose their savings (in a bank nationalized in a way that saw the savings of Muslims "erased" - thus preventing any real chance of my family affording to leave Sarajevo.) They also would have been able - at least at certain times - to leave under Croatian or Serbian safe passage. But as Muslims, they were trapped, and it's easy to argue that they were murdered as a result of these things.

You may "not buy for a second" that fewer people would be killed if there were stronger anti-hate measures, and stricter enforcement of the same, but I speak for hundreds of slaughtered relatives and friends who might beg to differ . . . were it not for the virulent spread of hateful rhetoric and the rewarding of hateful acts, many - if not all - of the people I cared for might be alive today. You're recklessly naive to think that the deliberate perpetuation of hate doesn't add to the overall number of deaths. Sadly, I do not have enough fingers or toes to count just those known personally to me.

I'm American now, but I'm in eastern Europe as I write this. Every town I visit here, I can feel the giant vacuum left by large Jewish communities who contributed a disproportionately huge amount to the achievements of countries like Hungary, Romania, Poland (etc) and were all wiped out - not by random murders, but by the inculcation of an insane and unreasonable hatred that went unchecked by far too many. Would the Jewish population have been killed if they hadn't been Jewish? It's a stupid question - no, they would not have been. Just as many people I knew and loved would not have been killed if some simple fact of their identity had not been what it was. Your sense of history is exceedingly poor.


One comment I liked: "a hate crime is essentially two crimes: a crime against an individual, and a crime against the class to which that individual is perceived to belong. a hate crime dehumanizes and instills fear in the targeted class."

Right! And not only that, it steals something from the rest of us too, those who aren't in the targeted class. Every day here in Romania, I walk past what once must have been a beautiful synagogue. It's now an ugly disco; I suppose no one had a ladder tall enough to smash the graceful Star Of David windows set eighty feet up. And every day, it makes me wonder what this poor country might have been if hatred hadn't been allowed to run so wild that many of its best leaders, thinkers, artists and business people were so easily killed. Several generations of people have paid an unknowable price for hate crimes committed 65 to 70 years ago. One can't defend any kind of murder, but a "hate crime" murder does add something extra to an already noxious stew.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:31 PM on October 12, 2008 [22 favorites]


There is something very dangerous to me about additional punishment for the reasoning behind a murder, not because intent doesn't matter - it does and absolutely must for an actual murder to be weighed against involuntary manslaughter - but because at the level of First Degree Murder the killer has already determined that the victim's life had no value. In this abstract, no matter the reasoning for believing that the victim's life was valueless, that fact still remains. The difference between the degrees of murder ranging from First Degree to Involuntary Manslaughter have to do with intended effects as opposed to unintended effects, which is something I agree with.

Hate Crimes legislation can assist with prosecuting the external intended effects inherent in a murder such as Matthew Sheppard's, i.e. the fear of all withing a certain group being targeted, but I feel like it doesn't do so in the best way possible, and opens the door for bad law to follow the generally good-but-flawed. Something must be done, of course, because in these cases the consequences are greater, but I'd prefer a way of doing this where the possible incidentiality of a victim's race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. doesn't come into play in a trial about the murder of one person.

I think I'd prefer, as part of a greater system of law, a definition of assault which applied to the "targeted community" in these types of cases where it is clear that the motivation was to terrorize a certain demographic. This could be prosecuted both criminally and civilly, and provide relief to those surviving members of the community, while also having the law speak to the actual effect that we are concerned about, instead of doing so in a roundabout fashion which we hope will work out in the end.

I'm not explaining myself very well, but the general point is that I agree with the aims of hate crime legislation, but just wish we could do a better job at making the law fulfill those aims specifically rather than working too broadly and justifying any unintended consequences with our good intentions.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:42 PM on October 12, 2008


I'm also getting sick of the whole "all crimes are hate crimes" nonsense. There is a substantial difference between killing someone you know because you were in a fight and killing a stranger because he is gay. You might stab a guy in a bar, but it will never lead to a Holocaust, and if you can't comprehend the difference between a personal loathing and a societal prejudice, then you may not be qualified to have an opinion about matters of law.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:02 PM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


You know what?

When I am not afraid of walking down the street in YOUR town, and mine, holding hands with my boyfriend, there will be no no need for hate crime laws.

When I can kiss him gently on the lips as he gets on the bus, and shout I love you as he takes his seat, there will be no no need for hate crime laws.

When [edited for reasons of being fucking obvious] I don't feel targeted, there will be no need for hate crime laws.

Ask your gay friends: can they do what you do, when you do, where you do, when they want to? [Residents of SF, The Village & Canal St - disqualified. Time restrictions apply].
posted by dash_slot- at 5:02 PM on October 12, 2008 [11 favorites]


I oppose hate-crime laws. If you punish crimes against some people more, then necessarily it means you punish crimes against other people less. Would my murder be less heinous just because I am not gay?

I believe the law should punish people for what they do, not for what they think.


Good god, I'm so sick of this stupid yeah-I-saw-that-episode-of-South-Park-too non-logic, and I'm ashamed at every one of the (currently) 12 people who favorited that comment like it was a pearl of wisdom instead of the most tired and repeated attempt to not actually think about a subject imaginable.

You know, I find it very interesting that every single time someone wants to say they "don't support" hate crime laws, they use murder as an analogy. But there's a simple reason for that: because murder is of course the most severe of crimes. And when you start by comparing the worst of something to the worst of something, it's a lot harder to interpret levels of severity.

Except hate crime isn't just about killing people. In fact, most of the time, it's about smaller crimes like assault, trespassing, intimidation, harassment, slander, and vandalism. And you know what? If you're going to pretend that there aren't varying levels of severity for all those crimes then I have this counter-argument I'd like to refer to as the entire recorded history of criminal justice since the founding of this country.

I'm really sick of the straw man whining about how "murder is murder; if I kill this guy it's as bad as killing this guy." Well, no fucking shit. But spraypainting "Jim was here" on the side of a dumpster and spraypainting "die kikes die" on the front door of a synagogue are two slightly fucking different levels of vandalism, ya think?

The difference between a crime and a hate crime is that a crime can occur because something is there. A hate crime occurs because you found something specific. When you spraypaint a wall or smash a window because you want to spraypaint a wall or smash a window, that's one thing. If you're going to say it's "the same thing" as wanting to spraypaint a specific thing on a specific door or smash a certain window of a certain building because a certain type of person owns it, then you're simply pretending to be ignorant for the sake of some bizarre sense of self-superiority that I truly do not understand.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:04 PM on October 12, 2008 [40 favorites]


In other words, when I can snog in public like straights can, when I can caress like straights can, when I can hold hands like straights can... we will have no need for 'hate crime laws' that protect gays.

The analogy works for other marginal groups too.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:11 PM on October 12, 2008


Essentially you just told me that because I'm a straight white Christian male, my murder/beating is of less significance than someone with other physical/psychological/etc. attributes.

No. The 1969 hate legislation specifically and directly applies to you (as it does to everyone), if you are attacked, maimed or murdered because of your race (white), religion (Christian), but does not now apply due to your sexual orientation (perceived or real).
"...it [is] unlawful to willfully injure, intimidate or interfere with any person, or to attempt to do so, by force or threat of force, because of that other person's race, color, religion or national origin..."
posted by ericb at 5:19 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Roving bands of gay thugs (or just one errant fella'), targeting white, Christian, straight men for intimidation, attack or murder should be held to account under the current hate crimes legislation on the books. Throw them in jail. Throw the book at them. Better yet, make sure that they get extra time for targeting their victims for being heterosexual. Oh, wait, that can't be done, since the law does not provide for such.
posted by ericb at 5:26 PM on October 12, 2008


Ask your gay friends: can they do what you do, when you do, where you do, when they want to? [Residents of SF, The Village & Canal St - disqualified. Time restrictions apply].

Small derail: "[In 2000], San Francisco police recorded 179 hate-motivated crimes, down from 218 in 1999. In 66 of those attacks, racism was the motivating factor; 59 were anti-gay attacks; 29 were a product of anti-Semitism; 16 resulted from hatred of ethnic groups. Three were against transgender men and women; three were a result of religious intolerance, two of political persecution and one of disability."


What if the bias crime isn't a murder? From earlier in the same article:
"Aurora Grajeda, a resident of San Francisco's Mission District, said she had been spat upon and stalked by a man bent on harassing her just because of who she is: a transgender woman.

"At first I was dumbfounded . . . then angry," said Grajeda, 54, recalling the incident that occurred on Valentine's Day as she walked along Mission Street to one of her favorite markets. "After he followed me for several blocks, it was sheer terror."

The man, who was riding a bike, followed Grajeda, taunting her with anti- gay epithets until she ducked into an alcove, where she found a pay phone and called police. By the time officers arrived, she was in tears. The man was gone. The officers took a report, but no arrest was ever made.
So, the guy who was harassing her should just be charged with simple harassment? Even though he was shouting epithets at her? Even though he targeted her because of her gender and/or perceived sexual orientation?
posted by rtha at 5:31 PM on October 12, 2008


The man, who was riding a bike, followed Grajeda, taunting her with anti- gay epithets until she ducked into an alcove, where she found a pay phone and called police. By the time officers arrived, she was in tears. The man was gone.

FUCK I hate bullies. I would so love to be there when some fuck head does this to somebody. It'd be a hate crime all right.

As in "Bullies so hate to get the shit kicked out of them by a punky middle-aged nerd."
posted by tkchrist at 6:24 PM on October 12, 2008


I have a question- a sincere one, not a rhetorical one.

The recent events in Jena, LA, were sparked by an unknown party hanging nooses from a tree in a schoolyard. Unlike murder or assault, this is not a crime per se.

If the federal hate crimes law were in effect, could people who commit acts like this - racist graffiti and the like - which are currently not crimes be prosecuted under the hate crimes statute? In other words, what if the hatred and bigotry results not in murder or assault, but in actions that, however heinous, are currently protected by the First Amendment?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:30 PM on October 12, 2008


And yes, I read ericb's link to the 1969 legislation. I'm thinking about acts that don't involve the type of direct, person-to-person intimidation at schools, polling places and so forth outlined in the law.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:58 PM on October 12, 2008


I believe the law should punish people for what they do, not for what they think.
posted by Class Goat at 12:51 PM on October 12


Thanks for your well-thought out opinion on the matter. I look forward to seeing you write a letter to your congressmen explaining it, as well as your opposition of any distinction between manslaughter, murder in the second degree, and murder in the first degree. Same goes for the highly educated non-idiots who favorited that comment as well.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:17 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Essentially you just told me that because I'm a straight white Christian male, my murder/beating is of less significance than someone with other physical/psychological/etc. attributes.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:26 PM on October 12


If you were murdered for being straight, or white, or Christian, or a man, guess what? It would be classified as a hate crime and prosecuted as such! Do you honestly not understand this?

In my experience as a heterosexual white male, there is literally no group that has the same kind of ridiculous, whiny, pathetic persecution complex as heterosexual white males. Most of them are the most unthinking, stupid, "whiteness-and-maleness-and-straightness-are-the-norm" babies you could ever have the misfortune to meet.

Q: Do you know how many people are killed in the U.S. for being white? for being Christan? for being straight?

A: Not many! I can't even think of any off the top of my head. So here are some followups:

Q1: Given that the DoJ statistics are widely available, why don't you go ahead and compare hate crimes committed against LGBT people and people of color to those committed against straight people and white people?

Q2: What did you find?

Q3: Given that there are many more straight people than LGBT, and given that there are many more whites than non-whites, isn't it odd that the vast majority of these crimes are committed against those groups by whites and heterosexuals?

Q4: How do you explain this discrepancy?

I am asking this of heterosexual straight white males: please stop being intellectually lazy and please stop being blind to the way that the world works for people who are not straight white males. You are an embarrassment. You are a sickness, and you make it really hard for the other straight white males to not hate ourselves for belonging to a group with such a fucking sense of entitlement. Is it so fucking hard to read books or to stop for one second and realize that your experience is not widely shared?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:34 PM on October 12, 2008 [12 favorites]


Hate crime legislation may be a good idea, or it may be a bad idea.

Either way, Matthew Shepard died a horrible death for worse than no reason. And that makes me want to cry every time I think of that poor boy and what he suffered.

Thanks for this post. Tomorrow, when I haven't been drinking Manhattens, I'll read it in full. Tonight, all I can do is hope that Matthew found more justice in death than he did in life. RIP.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:55 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


foxy_hedgehog: The recent events in Jena, LA, were sparked by an unknown party hanging nooses from a tree in a schoolyard. Unlike murder or assault, this is not a crime per se.

Sounds like a death threat to me, and those are illegal. Why don't we just prosecute as that?
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:01 PM on October 12, 2008


A few years ago I saw Leslie Feinberg speak about hate crimes - among other topics. Like Leslie, I'm Jewish and a lesbian, so I think I'm a potential target of hate crimes, but I had to agree with Leslie that hate crimes laws aren't an effective way to fight homophobic violence.

We know from clear example that legal punishments are not distributed fairly - poor people and people of color are imprisoned at rates disproportionate to the rates of those who actually perpetrate crimes. Creating harsher laws is also not an effective deterrent for those who are truly hateful enough to commit these crimes.

As a lesbian, I'd much rather see educational interventions for youth, equal rights in terms of marriage etc, and a commitment on the part of government and social leaders to outspoken support of queers than more punishment for these awful crimes.
posted by serazin at 8:02 PM on October 12, 2008


Are minorities actually prosecuted and incarcerated for hate crimes more than non-minorities? That doesn't seem right.

If not, it seems to me you are actually arguing to remove one of the few mechanisms of prosecution that doesn't unfavorably discriminate against minorities.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:08 PM on October 12, 2008


Besides which, why are we arguing that hate crime legislation isn't an effective deterrent? Very few sentences are. I have never argued against the death penalty because it is an ineffective deterrent; I am opposed to it because I find it morally repulsive. But most sentences function as punishment, and always have.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:12 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


In opposing the death penalty Astro Zombie, isn't it at least worth noting to your opponents that along with being morally reprehensible, the death penalty doesn't even serve it's supposed intended purpose - preventing more murders? That argument seems important in any rational discussion of the matter.

And we don't have data on the demographics of hate crimes prosecutions, but we DO know that for all other crimes, people of color and poor people are effected disproportionately. We also know, as was stated above in this thread, that hate crimes legislation could be used to prosecute anyone who targets someone because of a social, ethnic, or religous group membership. So in theory, a lesbian attacking a straight man could be prosecuted for a hate crime. I expect we're more likely to see prosecutions for hate crimes of one "minority" member attacking a member of another "minority" - a Latino attack on an African-American for example.

Look, what I'm saying is, these laws aren't going to stop violence against queers, and they're not going to stop racist violence either. Early interventions for school age kids that promote mutual respect, cultural understanding, and the valuing of diversity seem like a much better use of our tax dollars.
posted by serazin at 8:28 PM on October 12, 2008


You are a sickness, and you make it really hard for the other straight white males to not hate ourselves for belonging to a group with such a fucking sense of entitlement.

I too hate myself due to the beliefs and actions of people I am arbitrarily grouped with for one stupid reason or the other!
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:33 PM on October 12, 2008


Look, what I'm saying is, these laws aren't going to stop violence against queers, and they're not going to stop racist violence either. Early interventions for school age kids that promote mutual respect, cultural understanding, and the valuing of diversity seem like a much better use of our tax dollars.

If you can make the case that minorities are, in fact, disproportionately prosecuted and punished for hate crimes, then I will likewise oppose them. But I don't care that they don't prevent hate crimes. These crimes have added weight, because they reflect and support a larger social injustice, and therefore I am perfectly comfortable with them having a larger punishment.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:37 PM on October 12, 2008


Well I guess what it comes down to for me is that our justice system also represents a larger social injustice - one that impacts many more people than overt gay bashing does (and I say this as a butch dyke who genuinely has feared for my safety because of my queerness). So I'm not willing to put my hopes in that system, or to expand its application. Unless of course we could use hate crimes laws to prosecute the judges who disproportionately sentence people of color - then I might be for them.
posted by serazin at 8:44 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm really sick of the straw man whining about how "murder is murder; if I kill this guy it's as bad as killing this guy." Well, no fucking shit. But spraypainting "Jim was here" on the side of a dumpster and spraypainting "die kikes die" on the front door of a synagogue are two slightly fucking different levels of vandalism, ya think?

See, and here we get to the real issue (and I thank you for taking things out of the realm of murder, where you are correct that the crime is so extreme as to make the "hate" be out of context.

Still, in your spray-apint example, hate crimes legislation is still not necessary. "Jim was here" would be prosecuted as vandalism. "die kikes die" would be prosecuted (rightly) as vandalism, harassment, and possibly even assault given the right circumstances. In other words, while it's not perfect yet, the law can do things to deal with the specificty of certin actions and their intended effects as far as bigotry is concerned.

I have no love for bigots, and as I've said, I appreciate the aims of hate crime legislation. I have a big problem with any law which reaches into thought-police realms in order to achieve its goals, particularly when those goals may be met by other means. In the case of a vitim like Matthew Shepard, this means that the charges of First Degree Murder, Torture, False Imprisonment, and anything else which can be thrown at the kilers are leveled against them on Shepard's behalf, but then that the other members of the community have a remedy specifically of their own the bring forth for the fear and intimidation they feel on account of the crime. Thus, law which does not deal with punishing a person for what they were thinking or believing, but for the effects of their actions against the people who were damaged in some way by those actions.

I want the world dash-slot envisions. I just want to have it without the legislature and judiciary being able to punish our thoughts. I can only hope that gay and lesbian AMerican can understand the danger inherent in allowing the courts to punish us based on our thoughts and beliefs. That pendulum can swing quickly to the other side. Make law based on remedies for those damaged, however, and the door to poor consequences stays closed, as no one has ever been truly damaged by gays and lesbians having equal rights to those of straights, for instance, but many bigoted straights would love to see gays and lesbians prosecuted for their thoughts and beliefs.

I want to see those who commit hate crimes put behind bars as long as is possible, but I don't want to see the law perverted for possibly bad ends when it isn't necessary to do so.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:55 PM on October 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Hello. I guess I'll fill the requisite spot for a comment from a person who lives in Laramie, grew up in Laramie, and was in Laramie when all of this happened.

I guess I was lucky that I was raised in a way that made hatred of gays seem as strange and stupid as hating people because they were black or Catholic or dyed their hair. I've always found people different than me interesting, rather than scary. But I've never been so naive as to think that other people thought the same way as I did.

I was horrified by the brutal assault and later death of Matt Shepard. I found the disappearance of Kristin Lamb, who was in my 4-H club, scary and sad. And when they found her body in the Powell landfill, disposed by her molester/murderer like garbage, I was horrified. When they found the naked, frozen body of Daphne Sulk, a girl one grade ahead of me in school, stabbed to death and left in the woods, I was horrified. It was a terrible year, with several violent deaths that deeply hurt the community. I don't remember so many non-accidental deaths happening so close together in any year before that. But when this all happened, I was in 8th grade, so most major news around that time, both national and local, kind of blends together in my mind.

These wounds haven't healed well for me. I don't know about the rest of the town, but every time Matt comes up in the news I remember the shock, pain, and horror of all of those murders and then the dreadful stress of the news media and intrusive activists and protesters descending on the town after Matt's beating and death, and then again for the trial. And I can't think about Matthew Shepard and all that came with his killing without thinking about the two girls that died without the national grief and rage that Laramie's "hate crime" brought down. [use of quotation marks due to the fact that the crime was probably more complicated than the popular headline and story angle used in the media]

Each of those murders was a terrible tragedy. Each killing was stupid and wasteful and showed a profound disconnection from humanity by each murderer involved in those crimes. And as far as hate crime legislation applies to murder, those three people are all dead. Who is going to tell any of their mothers that those crimes should not have equal investigation, prosecution, and punishment of those responsible? In the case of murder, society should put it's full resources and dedication towards the pursuit of justice. And these murderers deserved the full sorrow and wrath of society. They all damaged us as individuals and as a group. I believe it damages us more to attempt to rank the worth of those lives and deaths.

Regarding hate crimes legislation and the trial of Matt's murderers, in both court and the community, I believe that the use of the "gay panic" defense was abhorrent to the vast majority of the community. Yes, a few people could distract themselves from the horror of the crime by getting all religious or philosophical about homosexuality, but everyone I know was disgusted by the thought that anyone thought there was any excuse for the savage things that were done to Matt. Most everyone thought any act of hate or violence toward Matt was completely unjustified, but even unrepentant homophobes were aghast at the sick brutality of that crime. If the McKinney trial had proceeded, rather than the defendant changing his plea to guilty, I truly believe the jury would have made it very clear how inexcusable our community found his crime and his defense. Honestly, I believe that he would have had a better chance for leniency if he had gone with a defense along the lines of "I was so tweeked out on meth I barely knew which was was up." With or without a hate crimes law, I really hope that any community would react with horror and anger to any violent crime, regardless of its motivations. I find terror in all violence, be it random or targeted for whatever reason, and I believe all of it damages society.

Regarding hate crimes legislation for acts of intimidation and incitement of violence: what is wrong with us if we don't already have laws that punish those sorts of actions toward any individual or group? If two rival softball teams start harassing or threatening one another, it is damaging to our society. If two groups are different teams, gangs, or religious groups I find any threats or violence bizarre and unacceptable. Yes, the amount of fear created in the targeted group may vary, but it all comes from a similar tribal place, and can all lead to terrible consequences. I believe it is in our society's best interests to thoroughly condemn any such behavior for any reason, and if acts of intimidation and incitement of violence aren't already illegal, and that's what hate crimes legislation will do, than I guess I'm for it.

A note, though: by the time a person reaches the point that they'll physically assault or murder someone for reasons covered by hate crime laws, it is already too late. Hate crime laws in those cases seem like their purpose is to assuage the guilt of society, rather than to prevent crimes in that category. Rodger's and Hammerstein had it right in South Pacific: "You've got to be carefully taught." If we're serious about stopping bias crimes or hate crimes or whatever term you would like to use, we need to fix our culture. We need to emphasize our interconnectedness and strengthen our belief in some sort of inherent human worth and dignity. We need to let our differences make us stronger rather than allowing our fear of differences to make us weaker.
posted by fontgoddess at 9:22 PM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


In other words, when I can snog in public like straights can, when I can caress like straights can, when I can hold hands like straights can... we will have no need for 'hate crime laws' that protect gays.

Well, I'd rather no one felt the need to get busy in public, gay or het, unless they're willing to kick me some action. I don't know how anyone else feels about this, but to me it's kinda like chewing gum in class: if you don't have enough for everybody, don't do that in here. Because really. It's just not very considerate. But that's neither here nor there. I certainly agree with the underlying sentiment.

And agreed with the above: Call it terrorism; that's what it is. Also, if you're getting your political views from fucking "South Park"? Um. Yeah. Don't do that in here, either, please.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:36 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The minute I saw this post my first thought was "Oh my god, it's been ten years already?!"

I was not quite a year out of the closet when this happened. It struck me very hard as a reality check. Not so much for me, as I'm a gay woman, but it sowed fear in my heart for the many gay male friends I had made since coming out and beginning to find my place in the community.

I just remember being so horrified at the details of the crime, how he died, there on that fencepost.

And years later I remember sobbing, gasping, messy sobs, when I heard this line in The Laramie Project:

But he was not alone. There were his lifelong friends with him, friends that he had grown up with. . . First he had the beautiful night sky and the same stars and moon we used to see through a telescope. Then he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him. And through it all, he was breathing in the scent of the pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind, the ever present Wyoming wind for the last time. He had one more friend with him. He had God.

R.I.P. Matthew.
posted by aclevername at 10:03 PM on October 12, 2008


After reading the post obviously he didn't die while still tied to the fence. I was wrong about that. But I honestly thought that was the case until just this second.
posted by aclevername at 10:07 PM on October 12, 2008


This is a total fucking nightmare. What once began as a respectful commemoration of a murdered man had become a well, perhaps this could have happened to a straight person

I don't tar all of Laramie with the same brush, and I don't negate that shitty things happen to straight people, but in this case, when a gay man is targeted because he is weak, and because he's in a place that is generally homophobic, it pisses me off when people imply that it could have happened to anyone.

I am sure there are great people in Laramie. But what happened to Matthew Shepard would not have happened in a blue state. Sorry, but there is a difference here. And for those of you who deny that his death had anything to do with being gay, fuck you.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 10:42 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


kittens for breakfast-- You might be a very nice person. But Matthew Shepard was in a bar known to be friendly to gay people. The guys who led him on were pretending to be gay men. So really, this has nothing to do with lewd behavior in public. If Matthew Shepard had been a straight, white stripper, this wouldn;t have been an issue.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 10:45 PM on October 12, 2008


"due to a veto threat by President Bush."

I used to think all sorts of things about Bush. Maybe he's stupid. Maybe he's evil. Maybe it's all a smokescreen. Maybe it's a huge conspiracy.
I think I've got it pretty well nailed down now though - he's just a prick.

"Hate crimes as proposed and how they stand now invent a new set of crimes that layer over as additions to already existing charges and define these crimes as terrorism of a selected populace."

I agree with your outlook, but your premise is flawed.

I have issues with certain sorts of law that look like thought crime. Hate crime legislation - used judiciously, as I think it is being used in this case - is not in that category.

One of the things hate crimes are designed to do is address a social trend.
Much as I dislike anyone using the government to manipulate society, I do recognize the necessity in certain cases to put the stops on destructive action linked with certain ideology.

Give that that proponents of that ideology can speak freely.

So, I fully support the rights of Neo-Nazis (say) to march wherever they will like any other group.
However a murder committed that serves a Neo-Nazi agenda does have to be addressed with that social component in mind and cannot be treated like any other "normal" murder.

In much the same way political murder or threat is addressed at a more serious level.
Someone who publicly threatens to kill me, I can call the police and that person will probably be charged if I pursue the matter. If that person can be show to have means, it's a bit more serious.

Someone who publicly threatens to kill the president - whole other level of heat.
Coupled with potential means, you're talking an operation consisting of several man-hours, maybe a few thousand dollars in my case - versus a multi-million dollar operation involving many federal agents.

So - we recognize the impact certain crimes have on society. Someone knocking me off is not as big a deal (to the country) as someone knocking off the president.
Similarly - you cannot allow an ideology to couple itself to violent means without addressing it socially.
In this case the ideology is asserting itself in the negative: Anti-gay.
In the case of Neo-Nazis it would contain several agendas (anti-gay among them) but primarily anti-Jewish (depending on the group).

So any action done along those lines - the killing of a Jewish person with, say, a swastika drawn on them requires a more intensive investigation than a normal
murder because it could be indicative of a broader scale and potentially more violence.

And I'll agree with the above that hate crimes can be (not necessarily are) a form of terrorism.
But in terms of investigation, and other legal aspects, it doesn't much matter because, unchecked, it could evolve into terrorism.

In any event it's a relatively moot point since to prove a crime you don't have to prove motive. In terms of hate crime the bar is set a little higher because you have to prove that element of the crime.

Given that it's proven in court, and I don't think it's that easy a thing to do unless you have a wealth of evidence - say, a dead rabbi with swastikas all over him and the defendant with Aryan Nation teardrop tats, swastikas, etc. etc. this guy say,and him maybe admitting to it, then yeah.

But it's not something that's applied haphazardly or in a manner that shifts anyone's rights - just by the nature of how the justice system in the U.S. works.

I want to be clear on that last point - you don't have to prove motive to convict someone.
If I'm standing over the body of a dead rabbi and there's a smoking gun in the room, they're pretty much going to arrest me whether I just stumbled in just after the murder or I actually did the deed.

By the same token - if I'm in the exact same situation, dead rabbi, smoking gun, and there's swastikas all over - they're going to have to prove my motivation in addition, not as a free "bonus" as some of you seem to think.

So it's going to complicate the prosecutors case. And they don't much like that.

I mean, maybe the rabbi was sleeping with my wife or some such and I painted the Nazi regalia to throw off the investigators.
But even if I am a Neo-Nazi: prove it. Link me with the Aryan brotherhood.

How are you going to do that?

If I've got no tattoos, and I've kept my associations quiet - that's a very very hard case to prove. So they're probably... no, almost certainly, just going to go - meh, maybe he's a Nazi, but we've got him cold otherwise (and we can take the heat from the JDL 'cause he's going to get at least 20 anyway) so just - murder.

"In my experience as a heterosexual white male, there is literally no group that has the same kind of ridiculous, whiny, pathetic persecution complex as heterosexual white males. Most of them are the most unthinking, stupid, whiteness-and-maleness-and-straightness-are-the-norm" babies you could ever have the misfortune to meet."

I have to disagree. And that's predicated not on my own "white" hetero status, but stems from fontgoddess' point that we need to fix our culture.
I myself have taken a strong personal stance on this kind of b.s. Which is what I think everyone should be doing. Sometimes I get asked "Why - are you gay" To which I typically respond either "why, you want me to fuck you?" or "yes, I'm the tooth fairly" and crack my knuckles.
But if you cast one side as victim, even if they are, even if it's righteous, you necessarily cast the other as the oppressor.
So then how do those roles get dropped? Even if you lay it down as an individual. There's still those assumptions, yeah? I'm still the bad guy, if you're always the good guy or the victm. So we're not equal then are we?

My wife and I walked past a loving couple (gay) down in "Boystown" in Chicago walking hand in hand. (It's the term used by most of the gay folks I know from around here.)

Anyway, some group of guys snickered at them and said "fags" or some such and we just stopped and I said "what are you guys, from fucking Kansas?" which, they must have been from out of town, everyone here knows where Boystown is, it's not hard to miss, there are rainbows everywhere and freakin' monument rings and stuff.

I'll cut a long story short there - thing that struck me was how shocked the couple was I went out of my way on their behalf.
Oh, they weren't ungracious, but as a white looking hetero male, I get a lot of that.

When I was in the service a black serviceman was walking hand in hand with (I guess) his girlfriend who was white. He saw me coming, let go of her hand, and moved to a further distance from her. She looked at him quizzically.
I kind of smirked and shook my head as I went past them.

Totally miscommunicated there. Because he walked faster. So after a second I reversed and hustled after them. Well he started hustling faster and she's starting to yell and I finally got to him and stopped him (not physically) and I said "Hey, we're not all crackers."
To which he didn't know how to respond. Looked to me like he was suppressing a laugh.

So where do we go from there? We start sitting together in the mess? I saw the guy a few times, he never came near me.

I guess the point being - there's good and bad in everyone. And yeah, that's cliched. And I get that 'white' folks are ostensibly the 'norm' and the 'oppressor' but by the same token if you treat everyone in that class as the enemy - what common ground can we reach?

I mean, you keep telling me I'm evil, treating me like I'm a bastard, I'm this, that, the other, well hell, I'm going to want to listen to you or be around you?

It's not enough to say 'we're equal' and then continue to treat the other side as oppressive. If we're equal, be my equal and take my hand and we can work both sides of the street.

Too many people want to make others their enemies, and I mean 'make' - just so they can keep that chip on their shoulder. Even if it's warranted, it makes it tough to move forward.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:53 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


gesamtkunstwerk: I am sure there are great people in Laramie. But what happened to Matthew Shepard would not have happened in a blue state. Sorry, but there is a difference here. And for those of you who deny that his death had anything to do with being gay, fuck you.

According to the statistics presented by rtha, there were 59 anti-gay crimes in San Francisco during 1999. So, I tend to disagree.

It really drives me nuts that this is all most people know about my college's town and my home state, and thus they all assume everyone in it is dirty and horrible. Look, I know it's more interesting to think the west is full of barely-closeted homophobes, but it's not. This was a total fluke that shocked everyone in the state.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:57 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can kind of understand how someone would walk into a 7-11 and demand money from a minimum-wage clerk, and during the confrontation, the armed robber felt it was necessary to shoot and kill the clerk, or when a man comes home and finds his wife in bed with another and kills one or both of them, or a serial killer who targets prostitutes. I'm sure some of these killers will have extenuating circumstances and I sympathize with their plight. But there is absolutely no reason to kill someone because they are gay.
I wrote that snarky comment and was going to post it, but then I thought about my knee-jerk reaction and I changed my mind. Killing someone because they're gay really is an unthinkably cruel and inhuman thing to do. And if that is the reason for the murder, then yes, it should should be treated differently. Extenuating circumstances work both ways.
posted by sluglicker at 11:14 PM on October 12, 2008


It definitely happens here in the gay capital of the world (but it doesn't get the same news coverage when its happening to a a Latina trans girl as when it happens to a white boy).
posted by serazin at 11:14 PM on October 12, 2008


Hate crime legislation is a horrendous and unjust idea for a number of reasons. If we as a society decide to come up with a separate set of rules for assault or murder based on the perpetrator's "hateful" intentions, you go halfway down the slippery slope of prosecuting states-of-mind rather than actual acts. It really does smack of P.K. Dick's "precogs" or Orwell's "thoughtcrime."

Less philosophically, I'll quote Alvy Amerpsand from way back in this thread:

"Hate crime legislation does not marginalize white hetero christian men; rather, it recognizes that for a very, very long time continuing up to the present day, non-WHCM citizens have been denied and continue to be denied the full protections of their country's laws."

Red herring. No doubt lots of white hetero males think that hate-crime legislation is yet another in a string of "namby-pamby Political Correctness Police Feminazi bullshit," but that's an attempt to smear them as being somehow ignorant of the shoddy legal basis on which a society would try to categorize punishements for "regular" and "super extra bad" murder (I guess you'd do it for assault too, but let's face it -- the Mathew Shepard murder was a horrible tragedy, and it's the the type of thing that hate-crime legislation advocates falsely think they can ever prevent completely).

Laws aren't supposed "to recognize" anything in the first place. They're supposed to be enforced in as neutral a manner as possible. Historically, is this the case? Of course not -- blacks and gays and women have always been treated as second hand citizens in a lot of regards. But the appropriate response isn't to re-legislate, but to enforce the proper enforcement of said laws. This has been happening, although something as horrible as Shepard's murder reminds us that we have a long way to go.

To get a little sideways, you can enact all the anti-handgun and anti-drug laws you want. With the latter, that's pretty much what America has been doing since the 1980's anyways. And guess what? It doesn't work. To create new laws ("Thou shalt not hate gays") doesn't make it so. But would it work as an effective deterrent? Nope. The death penalty has never been shown to be an effective deterrent against murder either (since murders are usually committed in fits of passion, and people who commit pre-meditated murders never plan on getting caught in the first place) and hate crime legislation would never work either.

Believe me, I sympathize. But the who movement to criminalize "hate" strikes me as just as absurd as declaring wars on drug use or terrorism. What you want to fight is far too abstractly defined and then, even if you did push these laws through, they wouldn't change people's behavior.

Very bad idea, and basically a waste of energy and resources for issues that I personally sympathize with, which is what frustrates me. It's the wrong fight.
posted by bardic at 12:40 AM on October 13, 2008


Laws aren't supposed "to recognize" anything in the first place. They're supposed to be enforced in as neutral a manner as possible. [snip] But the appropriate response isn't to re-legislate, but to enforce the proper enforcement of said laws.

False. Laws are not handed down from on high; they are written by people. If they are failing in certain areas, we are free to rewrite them instead of "enforcing them in a neutral manner." Laws are our recognition of issues we cannot prevent.
posted by mek at 2:27 AM on October 13, 2008


I used to be against hate crimes legislation, but one simple argument changed my mind*. If I murder my wife in a fit of jealous rage then I have demonstrated that I am a danger to my wife, and the only person locking me up will protect is my wife (who is now dead). If I murder someone for being gay/black/transgendered/whatever, I have demonstrated that I am a clear and present danger to that entire class of people - and locking me up will protect that class of people from me.

As protection is one of the four classical reasons for punishment (deterrence, retribution, and rehabilitation being the other three), and the need is greater in this case than the other three then the minimum sentence should be heavier.

* Courtesy of Fred Clark at http://slacktivist.typepad.com
posted by Francis at 3:08 AM on October 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty well done with terrorism as an excuse to add new and exciting charges to already existing events because the last few years are a parade of ridiculous things which happen when you create a crime based on what someone's reactions might be. "We're scared of boxes with blinking lights! We're terrorized! You're now a terrorist!" Thank you, Boston. I want evidence, not argument; I want facts, not someone saying they were scared.

Apologies for taking this quote out on its own, adipocere, because I go back and forth about hate laws as they are implemented so this is completely not intended to spotlight this statement as TEH WRONG or anything like that. It struck me as being very interesting, because one of my biggest gripes with the war on terra is the spectacle of watching people who are not in danger freaking out as if they are, and indulging their fearfulness as the gateway drug to brutal nationalism. When in fact, as a whole lot of people have been pointing out for years, we have had real ignore-it-at-your-peril domestic terrorism committed by people we consider real Americans as a part of life for certain people for years, and the odds of being harmed by it are actual factor-it-into-your-life-decisions odds (as opposed to the ultra-slim odds of being affected by al qaeda terrorism) for certain groups in certain regions. I have multiple one-degree-of-separation connections to gay-bashing victims. If I was a OB-GYN who did abortions, there are places where I wouldn't practice. I don't know from personal experience whether there are still places where it's physically dangerous to be in a mixed-race couple, but the days in which it definitely was aren't far gone.

The crime that the hate laws are intended to address is the use of murder and assault as a means to further a political goal, which in this case is reversing change in the society. That's not so complicated, and if you've ever seen post-imprisonment interviews with politically violent bigots, it is something some of them will freely own up to. That's what "we aren't going to put up with that kind of filth in our town" means.

If you blow up an embassy and there is absolutely no one in it, the crime is not seen as unlawful destruction of cinderblocks, and there is no mind-reading involved in the task of surmising the intentions of the bomber. The political intention is plain.

So saying that political intentions are impossible for the law to address in the case of murder is too glib -- I would grant you that it is a challenge for the law, and it needs a high burden of proof. But ignoring political intentions and saying "that's just too hard to have to figure out" says very clearly that political violence doesn't exist in the eyes of the law, except in the case it is committed against majority groups, when it is called terrorism. Both of those things (the ignorance about workaday political violence, and the fake fear about OFFICIAL EVIL PEOPLE violence) do harm to the fabric of the society. I think the that fake fear probably adds to the likelihood of workaday political violence, since it rationalizes some very brutal thinking.

The interesting thing is that whatever the reason for the Matthew Shepard killing, the extreme brutality and the fact that the killers said they did it because he was gay makes it a political statement on their part, because they chose to advertise an unbelievably brutal murder as the natural outcome of coming on to straight men. That undoubtedly had all kinds of effects on the way all kinds of people conducted themselves in Laramie afterwards, whatever Laramie was really like beforehand, so it certainly causes harm.

I agree that if a straight guy who hates queers punches a queer because they got in a fight on the way to grab the last taxi on a rainy day, it isn't advantageous to the society to prosecute it as a hate crime. I'm not too sure there is an epidemic of those kinds of prosecutions, though, since there is a burden of proof for the hate having some connection to the crime.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:45 AM on October 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


And I just wanted to quickly follow up and clarify that I believe that political violence against the majority is equally important, and that such an idea as terrorism correctly exists in the eyes of the law, rare as it is when directed at mainstream America. 9/11 was real massive-scale political violence, some hate-driven killings are real smaller-scale political violence.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:36 AM on October 13, 2008


On the one hand, it's impossible not to be disgusted by acts a heinous and heartless (not to mention coldly calculated) as what happened to Matthew Shepard. Then again, I'm also disgusted when somebody gets murdered for the money in their pocket or their car or for looking at someone the wrong way or whatever. and a part of wonders how important it is to calculate which is better or worse. and like serazin and others have said, to somebody hateful enough to do something like this, I don't know how much detterent affect these laws would have. I mean murder's already at the top of the list of Bad Things You're Not Supposed To Do, and that didn't seem to deter Shepard's killers or anyone else.
posted by jonmc at 6:41 AM on October 13, 2008


But what happened to Matthew Shepard would not have happened in a blue state.

You have a naive understanding of the inner cities in your beloved blue states.
posted by smackfu at 6:56 AM on October 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hate crime legislation is a horrendous and unjust idea for a number of reasons. If we as a society decide to come up with a separate set of rules for assault or murder based on the perpetrator's "hateful" intentions

Perhaps less time writing, more time reading? I think this "point" has been quite well addressed in several dozen places in this thread already.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:27 AM on October 13, 2008


Maine is blue, isn't it?
posted by CKmtl at 7:28 AM on October 13, 2008


kittens for breakfast-- You might be a very nice person.

Not really, but...

But Matthew Shepard was in a bar known to be friendly to gay people. The guys who led him on were pretending to be gay men. So really, this has nothing to do with lewd behavior in public.

That was me responding to a general statement that I quoted above my response, and neither what I said nor what I was replying to had anything to do with this case in specific.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:31 AM on October 13, 2008


I disagree that my comments were red herrings, bardic. I probably could have worded it better, but what I was trying to do was counter the perspective of some folks who seemed to think they were diminished by hate legislation because they didn't self-identify as being beneficiaries of those laws.

That said, I agree that hate legislation is not a deterrent. But few laws are - the illegality of murder or gay-bashing is not what's keeping you or I from doing those things, are they? Laws are not obeyed by the citizenry simply because they are laws, they're an expression of a society's values and standards for conduct. Hate legislation is not an attempt to make anyone's thoughts or opinions illegal, and I don't think it should be used to do that (Here in Canada, we've recently had two high profile cases involving that sort of thing which were ultimately dismissed).

But they are a way to enforce protections for groups who have traditionally been marginalized and victimized and a way to express their explicit enfranchisement in society (We still have a long way to go, but it's a start). Homophobes can still hate fags all they want, but if they attack someone just for being a fag - or if anyone targets someone else because of who they are, we need to make it clear that such acts are intolerable in a just and civilized society.

I do think that the claim that hate legislation leads to some horrible and subjective moral algebra is indeed a red herring, though. That the law is applied subjectively is nothing new, and the system's vulnerability to the biases and prejudices of those who administer it is partly why such legislation is necessary. The law already recognizes the difference between a random criminal act (Manslaughter) and a targeted one (First Degree Murder), so recognizing and punishing the vile nature of heinous crimes is simply an extension of that. It's not the first step on some slippery slope to the OMG THOT CRIME!1! or insipid 1 DEAD GAY=2 DEAD STRAIGHTS math espoused by some of the canker sores here.

White Supremacists are entitled to believe whatever stupid and ignorant shit they want, but if they torch a cross on someone's lawn, they should be charged with more than just harassment, arson, or violating controlled fire by-laws, no?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:19 AM on October 13, 2008


Yeah. Hate crime laws aren't the right solution. I could think of a thousand idiotic scenarios where "hate crime" laws would give someone a harsher punishment than if it was just plain old regular murder. You could extrapolate it to those who hate people for eating meat, or staying up too late and making noise on weekdays when others are trying to sleep, or smoking weed in the next apartment, or playing their music too loud, or eating too much candy for crying out loud.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 8:25 AM on October 13, 2008


Alvy Ampersand: White Supremacists are entitled to believe whatever stupid and ignorant shit they want, but if they torch a cross on someone's lawn, they should be charged with more than just harassment, arson, or violating controlled fire by-laws, no?

Sure, but making credible threats of violence is already illegal. I don't know that we need to make even more laws up to deal with this stuff.

I tend to worry that hate crime laws will be too inaccurately applied, since prosecutors can't mind-read and motive is very difficult to prove. Hell, in this thread alone, we've shown that there's a significant group that thinks the Matthew Shephard case was over meth money - and really, how are you going to prove it either way? The killers both stated that it was and later that it wasn't. It is very difficult to prove what was the motive at the time and what was made up later to convince everyone else - and themselves - why they did it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:32 AM on October 13, 2008


"hate crime" laws would give someone a harsher punishment...

They alreaady do, as per the hate crimes legislation enacted in 1969. Victims (and perpetrators) of hate crimes are not only represented by minorities, but by the majority: all of us.
posted by ericb at 8:34 AM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


BTW-- here are the annual FBI/U.S. Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics reports required by the Hate Crime Statistics Act (1992).
"Under the authority of section 534 of title 28, United States Code, the Attorney General shall acquire data, for each calendar year, about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, including where appropriate the crimes of murder, non-negligent manslaughter; forcible rape; aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation; arson; and destruction, damage or vandalism of property."
posted by ericb at 8:49 AM on October 13, 2008


"Some may argue that hate-crime legislation is just special-pleading from liberals with a hand in the 'gay agenda.' Hate-crime legislation for gays and lesbians does not mean special privileges for this group, as the legislation would deem all sexual orientation as a protected class safeguarding heterosexuals, homosexuals, and bisexuals. Our country is deeply divided over many issues pertaining to sex: sexuality, teenage sexuality, gender identity, contraception, marriage, abortion, etc. Can we not all agree that any/all means to protect a specifically targeted group of people for violent acts should be instituted as soon as conceivable possible? Even if you are not in support of gay rights, surely any moral individual would not want to see their neighbor, dentist, interior designer, realtor, professor, hair stylist, auto mechanic, brother, father, cousin, etc. with a ratchet in his skull. Right? We are an ever-increasingly diverse nation, to be sure; yet we can make some strides toward greater unity. W. H. Auden wrote: "Civilizations should be measured by the degree of diversity attained, and the degree of unity retained.'"

-- from Homosexuals Hunted in Massachusetts: A Case Study for Hate-Crime Legislation
posted by ericb at 8:53 AM on October 13, 2008


I just want to have it without the legislature and judiciary being able to punish our thoughts.

Hate crime legislation doesn't "punish for thoughts".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:07 AM on October 13, 2008


In case you haven't noticed....President Bush is an asshole.
posted by bjtitus at 9:10 AM on October 13, 2008


Hate crime laws aren't the right solution.

Well, they've been applied in thousands of cases since 1969. The proposed amendment seeks changes to that 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.
"The bill's main sponsors were Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) This is the third time that the Senate has passed the bill. On...previous occasions, the House either defeated a similar measure or stripped the amendment during the conference committee."
BTW -- many states already include sexual orientation and disability as defined classes in their Hate Crimes laws.
posted by ericb at 9:15 AM on October 13, 2008


I could think of a thousand idiotic scenarios where "hate crime" laws would give someone a harsher punishment than if it was just plain old regular murder.

Oh, neat! It's the Prove That A Law Is Ridiculous By Coming Up With Ridiculous Applications Of That Law game! Let's play along at home...

Punishing the willful ending of a life as murder is ridiculous. Someone could be charged with murder for ending the lives of the weeds in their garden.

Punishing the taking of possessions known to be not your own as theft is ridiculous. Someone could be charged with theft for making out and taking their fellow snogger's spit.

Punishing the forceful commission of a sex act on a non-consenting person as sexual assault is ridiculous. Someone could be charged with sexual assault for masturbating when their conjoined twin isn't in the mood.
posted by CKmtl at 9:15 AM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


bardic: Hate crime legislation is a horrendous and unjust idea for a number of reasons. If we as a society decide to come up with a separate set of rules for assault or murder based on the perpetrator's "hateful" intentions, you go halfway down the slippery slope of prosecuting states-of-mind rather than actual acts. It really does smack of P.K. Dick's "precogs" or Orwell's "thoughtcrime."

Well, first of all, hate crime laws do not impose stronger sentences on the basis of presumed intention, they imposed stronger sentences on the basis of action. The prosecution must make the case based on evidence that aggravating factor should be considered in sentencing.

Laws aren't supposed "to recognize" anything in the first place. They're supposed to be enforced in as neutral a manner as possible. Historically, is this the case? Of course not -- blacks and gays and women have always been treated as second hand citizens in a lot of regards. But the appropriate response isn't to re-legislate, but to enforce the proper enforcement of said laws. This has been happening, although something as horrible as Shepard's murder reminds us that we have a long way to go.

You are aware that one of the key decisions regarding bias crime laws involved an African American defendant who deliberately targeted white victims? And also, Supreme Court precedent has established that laws preventing discrimination and harassment in employment protect men and members of majority groups from an illegal action rather than favor one class over another?

Which is the basic misunderstanding here. The courts have been pretty consistent in deciding that the exact same language passes constitutional muster when used in regards to employment and housing discrimination. The laws don't directly state that certain groups are to be protected, they state that certain forms of bias can be grounds for legal action.

And one of the things you are missing here, is that the other side of bias crime laws is the recognition that law enforcement and prosecution of these cases has been historically biased. So the other branch of bias crime law involves steps to reduce bias by police departments and prosecution, and, if necessary, transfer jurisdiction for a crime if local bias is so severe the crime cannot be properly investigated or prosecuted.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:16 AM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hate crime legislation doesn't "punish for thoughts".

Nor for "speech".
"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."
posted by ericb at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2008


ChickenringNYC: You could extrapolate it to those who hate people for eating meat,

Well, to start with, dietary habits and clothing choices are not a protected class under either existing civil rights or bias crime laws. If it were protected, crimes against people who eat meat and crimes against vegetarians could be given sentence enhancement, provided there was sufficient evidence that it was a bias crime.

Which gets to another problem with arguing about these laws. Murder is just the tip of the iceberg. Benjamin Smith started with petty vandalism before escalating to multiple homicide.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:24 AM on October 13, 2008


Jaltoh: To those participating in this thread who are implicitly assuming that hate crime legislation is an effective deterrent, I'd be interested to know whether you believe that the death penalty is an effective deterrent.

Well, just from my end, the question of whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent is irrelevant to my opposition to the death penalty. Or to put a stronger point on it, one can imagine a state of government in which anyone perceived to be involved in a crime is executed immediately, and that this would have a strong effect on deterring crime. However the argument as to whether such measures are justified would rightly rest on how that state of affairs fails to safeguard basic human rights.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:30 AM on October 13, 2008


.
posted by Craig at 10:36 AM on October 13, 2008


I am prefacing this with the fact that I have not read thru all the comments yet maybe after work I will.

I support hate crime legislation, because it makes sense. People who commit "hate crimes" are more dangerous than a violent criminal who does not commit a hate crime. If I go out an beat to death a guy cause he slept with my sister. I have committed a violent act yes, but in sentencing me you consider what are the chances of me repeating my offense. My target is a diminishingly small percentage of the population (people who have slept with my sister). Now if I beat the guy to death for being (or perceiving him as gay). Now my target victim is a very large number of people out there. Same as if I did it because he was black, I am a threat to a greater percent of the populace.
Another point to look at is this does not protect gays or blacks more. I just protects. If the guy I beat to death for sleeping with my sister happens to be gay or black, I haven't committed a hate crime. Their race/sexual orientation or my perception there of are not motivating factors.

OK back to work now.
posted by MrBobaFett at 11:00 AM on October 13, 2008


I too hate myself due to the beliefs and actions of people I am arbitrarily grouped with for one stupid reason or the other!
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:33 PM on October 12


Frankly, you probably should. I know for a fact that I have not done enough in my life to combat both individual and institutional racism, and that one of the reasons for that is simply that straight-white-maleness makes coasting through life and not paying attention easy as hell.

You and I are both the beneficiaries of white privilege; why do we do such an awful job paying the debt on that borrowed capital?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:17 PM on October 13, 2008


Optimus Chyme: Frankly, you probably should. I know for a fact that I have not done enough in my life to combat both individual and institutional racism, and that one of the reasons for that is simply that straight-white-maleness makes coasting through life and not paying attention easy as hell.

If you hate yourself because you cannot fix all the wrongs in the world (or at least those that you have not personallty suffered) you are either going to lose your mind or become so lost in despair that whatever power you have to fix anything will be neutralized. It's a horrible, unproductive attitude that you should not push on others.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:06 PM on October 13, 2008


All murders are hate crimes, aren't they?
posted by tehloki at 5:05 PM on October 13, 2008


"In my experience as a heterosexual white male, there is literally no group that has the same kind of ridiculous, whiny, pathetic persecution complex as heterosexual white males. Most of them are the most unthinking, stupid, whiteness-and-maleness-and-straightness-are-the-norm" babies you could ever have the misfortune to meet."

God, I know. It'd serve 'em right if somebody clocked a few of 'em, just to show 'em.
posted by namespan at 7:12 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


It'd serve 'em right if somebody clocked a few of 'em, just to show 'em.
posted by namespan at 7:12 PM on October 13


So long as we start with the ones who think that hate crimes are a thing of the past.

If you hate yourself because you cannot fix all the wrongs in the world (or at least those that you have not personallty suffered) you are either going to lose your mind or become so lost in despair that whatever power you have to fix anything will be neutralized. It's a horrible, unproductive attitude that you should not push on others.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:06 PM on October 13


I don't hate myself. But I have to remind myself literally every day that my experience is not normative and that whiteness, maleness, and straightness confer very real and specific advantages that are unethical to accept. When I fail, I am disappointed. But to struggle to do good knowing that a final victory is impossible is the essence of morality, to me at least. And I make no apologies for confronting other straight white males with the reality of our situation.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:24 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


All murders are hate crimes, aren't they?
posted by tehloki at 5:05 PM on October 13


jesus christ you could at least pretend to read the other comments
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:26 PM on October 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


Metafilter is such an emotional roller coaster. Most of the time I just love you guys, and then on the issues I care about the most, I'm horrified. This thread is depressing.
posted by serazin at 8:52 PM on October 13, 2008


serazin: all I did was admit to ambivalence. I'm not on any kind of crusade here.
posted by jonmc at 8:29 AM on October 14, 2008


Metafilter is such an emotional roller coaster. Most of the time I just love you guys, and then on the issues I care about the most, I'm horrified. This thread is depressing.

Metafilter doesn't do law well. Too many Mefites assume that if someone opposes X, they'll support any and every law that is ostensibly targeted at preventing or punishing X. This is idiotic, of course, but that's how a lot of people look at it.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 9:38 AM on October 14, 2008


Jon, I don't mind the disagreement about the issue (you noted above that I also oppose hate crimes legislation) but I am really sad to see that so many straight people just don't seem to get that there is something important about recognizing the difference between any violence and homophobic violence.

Yes, I want a safer, more compassionate society for everyone. No one should have to fear for their safety. But we've got to also notice and acknowledge that certain classes of people have been historically - and are currently targeted because of their membership in those classes. The laws we have that deal with assault, battery, and murder don't help me feel safer as a visibly queer person (in no small part because historically, police were among the primary perpetrators of homophobic violence). Ultimately for me, someone who opposes the prison system, I don't think harsher laws are going to help protect me either. But all this argument that homophobic violence isn't any worse than other violence feels painful to read.

I think that what I want, and I'll go on a limb and say that I think this is what other queers want too, is for the larger society to notice and care that queer people are getting our asses kicked for being queer. If I'm bashed, it's not enough for me to know that you care about me because I'm a fellow human who was victimized. I want you to see that I was victimized because of this aspect of who I am. And if you don't see that mattering, I don't know how society can heal from it's hundreds-of-years-long history of homophobia.
posted by serazin at 4:42 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


And if you don't see that mattering, I don't know how society can heal from it's hundreds-of-years-long history of homophobia.

Believe me, I do. I'm not gay, but back in college, I went up to a different campus to visit my friend who had a flamboyantly gay roommate. I was early so I decided to sit outside the door and wait. I got looks from passersby (and the occasional muttered 'faggot,' which I still get from certain people on rare occasions based on I-don't-know-what). I was scared. So, I know exactly what you're talking about and understand. I just had misgivings about some of the technicalities of legislation and some of the ways it could be misinterpreted. Just wanted to be clear.
posted by jonmc at 6:43 AM on October 19, 2008


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