oasis
columns


ProzaKRaver

April 2001

A Controversial View Of Hate Crime Laws

Everyone once in a while, you have to share an important, controversial message with those who will listen. There are times you may upset people, and you may be misunderstood, but if you really believe in something, you have to be honest to your audience. I wrote this paper for a final Term Paper last semester in an English class. I worked all semester on something I wholeheartedly believed in. Though not everyone will agree, I think it is something we can all spend time thinking about. Email me your thoughts at webmaster@queerravers.zzn.com If there are enough responses, perhaps I'll put some in next month.

OH! By the way, I submitted a pic of me and my boifriend to XY's Boyfriend Photo search for their upcoming "Love Issue." Look out for the two of us. I'm wearing a bright orange shirt and we're laying on a couch together.... maybe you'll spot him and me!

Anyway... on to the paper....

ProzaKRaver's Term Paper

There is a disease that runs through the American public. This disease has been in existence longer than any known virus or bacteria, and possibly has claimed more lives of any illness in history. It runs rampant today in America, yet hardly anyone acknowledges it, and some do not even know that it is there. It affects over 9,722 people a year and claimed 13 lives in 1998 (US Dept. of Justice [USDJ] 5). Curious as to what disease is affecting America? Hate. Hate resulting in bias-motivated crimes and undeserving victims.

Hate has existed since the beginning of time with Cain and Abel. We have seen evidence of it throughout mankind's entire history. From the persecution of the Jews to the slaughtering of homosexuals, from the imprisonment of victims of war to the lynching of African American slaves, from the harassment of the disabled to the repressing of women; hatred has its roots deep in our past.

The American citizens of today are living under the myth of "All men are created equal," and that we are "the melting-pot nation." Never before has America been so diverse. Some would believe we have achieved some kind of equality and respect for this diversity. Such is not the case. Even though people believe our nation is tolerant of this diversity, the 9,722 victims of "hate-crimes" would beg to differ (USDJ 1).

"Hate crimes" are not separate, distinct crimes but rather traditional offenses motivated by the offender's bias. An offender, for example, may commit an assault because of his/her bias against the victim's race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or disability (USDJ 1). Information regarding hate crimes is gathered by law enforcement agencies when investigating offenses. If an offender's motivation is based on bias such as those listed previously, then local agencies report information to The Hate Crime Data Collection Program within the FBI. Statistics are published on a yearly basis.

During 1998, a total of 7,755 bias-motivated criminal incidents were reported to the FBI by 10,730 law enforcement agencies in 46 states and DC (USDJ 5) These involved 9,235 separate offenses affecting 9,722 victims (USDJ 5). Seventy percent of the incidents (5,429 incidents) were against individuals, and the remaining (2,326 incidents) were against groups (USDJ 5).

At the forefront of bias-crimes is the racial issue. In 1998 alone, 5,514 people experienced racial prejudice leading to an offense (USDJ 7,10). Over 3,500 of these were African American (USDJ 7,10). The second highest recipients of racial biased crimes were Caucasian (USDJ 7,10). Eight murders, eight rapes, and 1,762 cases of assault were recorded as racially motivated (USDJ 7,10).

So is racial prejudice still present in America? It is in Franklin, Massachusetts. At Tri-County Vocational High School, four graduating seniors wore swastikas, KKK symbols, and Confederate flags on their ceremony gowns (Hate Crimes: Incidents 2). On June 26, 1992, in Attleboro, Massachusetts, a Hispanic boy was beaten unconscious by two skinheads (Hate Crimes: Incidents 2). In rural Mississippi, seventeen-year-old Raynard Johnson was found hung from a tree by a belt in his front yard the day of a family picnic. He was African American, and it is suspected that his close friendship with two white girls was the possible motivation for the offenders (Mississippi Hanging 15).

Next to racial prejudice, other victims of "hate crimes" are those subject to religious bias. In 1998, 1,720 individuals were victimized because of religious intolerance (USDJ 7, 10). A majority of these were anti-Jewish incidents. Other cases included anti- Catholic, anti-Protestant, and anti-Islamic (in descending numerical order according to recorded cases) (USDJ 7, 10). Most of the cases were intimidation and assault with no murders being reported (USDJ 7, 10).

Another common form of bias was that against sexual orientation. Homosexuals and Jews have shared alternately, year-to-year, the position as the second and third highest recipients of bias-motivated crime (USDJ 7, 10). In 1998, there were 1,488 victims of hate crimes because of his or her sexuality (USDJ 7, 10). This included mostly assault and intimidation cases, but four murders were also reported (USDJ 7,10). The most publicized of these was the beating death of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, an openly homosexual freshman at the University of Wyoming.

Matthew Shepard was beaten severely and left hanging on a fence post. According to police, Shepard was beaten repeatedly on the back of the head with a.357 Magnum revolver while he begged for his life (Chua-Eoan 72). He hung for eighteen hours on the fence post with the back of his head bashed into brain stem, his face cut, and his limbs scorched with burn marks before he was found by two bicyclists (Chua-Eoan 72). Shepard's murder fanned the flame of hate crime debate into a wildfire.

So why is there a debate of "hate crimes"? Surely they exist, and surely there is a problem within our nation. The debate lies in how we should go about solving this national problem. Currently, the solution that seems to be what everyone is depending on is the proposal of Senator Ted Kennedy (Kepple & Weinkopf). Supported by President Clinton, Sen. Kennedy believes that the Federal Government needs to take jurisdiction over crimes against individuals in what legislation calls a "protected group" by an offender from an "unprotected group" (Kepple & Weinkopf). In other words, a black man (protected) could get away murdering a homosexual (protected as well) with less punishment even if it was biased, than if a white man (unprotected) killed a black man and it only appeared biased. Already, Congress has passed the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act of 1994 which increased sentencing by about one-third when a crime is proven to have been a "hate crime" ("Federal Response").

There seem to be many problems with the federal "hate crime" legislation being debated in Congress as of now. The Traditional Values Coalition lists the following concerns with current legislation:

1. Unconstitutional: expands federal jurisdiction into the activities of the state and local governments.

2. Unnecessary: the violence which is "criminalized" by the bill is already prohibited by the criminal code of every state.

3. Ineffective: federal courts are already overloaded.

4. Intrusive: forces prosecutors to act as thought police.

5. Unfair: elevates one class of victims into a special protected status ("The Hate Crimes Masquerade")

Current "hate crime" bills are unnecessary and ineffective because present sentencing guidelines already address the concerns of the victims. Advocates for federal jurisdiction cry for justice for victims like Raynard Johnson and Matthew Shepard. It is interesting to note that Shepard's killers are serving multiple life sentences without the chance of parole, and the only reason they were spared the death sentence quite possibly could be because of the request of Shepard's parents (Gierhart). So it seems that justice was served without additional "hate crime" legislation in place. Murder is illegal. One murder is as bad as the other, so both should be punished and justice served. The new legislation as proposed is redundant, and this is perhaps the strongest argument against "hate crime" bills.

Secondly, federal courts already are quite overworked. Federalizing cases that could be handled by states just does not make sense. Chief Justice Rehnquist recently said, "Increased federalization is rarely, if ever, likely to have any appreciable effect on the categories of violent crime that most concern Americans, because in practice federal law enforcement can reach only a small percent of such activity." Rehnquist also said, "Federal courts were not created to adjudicate local crimes, no matter how sensational or heinous the crimes may be. Matters that can be handled adequately by the states should be left to them" ("The Hate Crimes Masquerade").

So if federal "hate crime" laws are not the answer, states and local governments are doing their jobs, but bias-motivated crimes are still going on, where does the solution lie? I would dare say that it would be in the education our youth. A Northeastern University study says, "A large number of hate crime perpetrators are youthful thrill- seekers--60 percent of offenders committed crimes for the thrill associated with the victimization" ("Confronting"). It is time for schools to stand up and teach children tolerance for differences while still respecting the individual's beliefs. It is time for parents to show their children that violence solves nothing, even if someone disagrees with our own beliefs.

Programs can be implemented by schools, civic groups, and other community organizations. The resources are out there. School curriculums like Teaching Tolerance are available for minimal cost (US Dept. of Education [USDE]). According to Safe & Drug Free Schools, "A comprehensive hate prevention program will involve all school personnel in creating a school climate in which prejudice and hate-motivated behavior are not acceptable, but which also permits the expression of diverse viewpoints" ([USDE]). The Internet offers the stories of countless schools and organizations that can be used as models when setting up a Hate Crime Prevention Program. The US Board of Education's Safe and Drug Free Schools Program offers the following suggestions that I believe are essential for interested groups:

1. Provide hate prevention training to all staff, including teachers, administrators, and support staff.

2. Ensure that all students receive hate prevention training through age-appropriate classroom activities, assemblies, and other school related functions.

3. Develop partnerships with families, community organizations, and law enforcement agencies.

4. Develop a hate prevention policy to distribute to every student, every student's family, and every employee of the school district.

5. Develop a range of corrective actions for those who violate school hate-prevention policies.

6. Collect and use data to focus district-wide hate prevention efforts.

7. Provide structured opportunities for integration ([USDE]).

Education programs that teach our children respect, empathy, conflict resolution, and critical thinking skills are the solution to "hate crimes." People are not born with hate because it is a learned behavior ([USDE]). If schools, parents, and communities can work together to prevent or alter such prejudices, we can prevent bias- motivated violent crime from occurring in the future.

There are those who would oppose such education. The Traditional Values Coalition who also oppose stronger "hate crime" legislation and raise many valid arguments, also oppose in-school Hate Crime Prevention Education saying that it is "unchristian," and it "denigrates and teaches against Christian beliefs" ("The Hate Crimes Masquerade"). While it may be true that some of the curriculums may challenge certain people's diverse beliefs, the program is not set up to strip one of those beliefs, but to teach anyone how to respect this diversity. Adaptation may be necessary, but education is the best solution being offered, and the only solution that I feel will be effective.

When you examine it, almost anyone could be victimized because of someone else's bias. Thousands of "hate crimes" occur every year. It is obvious that current legislation is not doing its job. Even proposed legislation is unnecessary and illogical. Because uneducated youth are the most common perpetrators, common sense says that we need education. Parents and communities need to teach children and teens respect and tolerance. Even when there are unsolvable differences, violence is no answer. We are all part of the solution, so get involved. The only way to stop hate is to involve those who will be effective in eliminating it right in the places it is occurring--the youth growing up in the grassroots of America.

***About ProzaKRaver***

You may have read some of his material in Oasis when he wrote under the moniker "MrPostman." After a year break, he returns to share a chunk of what matters most to him. ProzaKRaver is a 19 year old college freshman in Michigan, and he enjoys theater, dancing, movies. Email him at webmaster@queerravers.zzn.com and visit his webpage at http://www.queerravers.zzn.com Check out his future articles about religion and a list of helpful queer youth resources

Works Cited


©1995-2001 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.