Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mathew Shepard: Aftermath

His name is Matthew Shepard, and eleven years ago outside of a little town in Wyoming called Laramie he was kidnapped, tortured, and beaten, before be being horrifically murdered. His Crime? He hit on a guy in a bar. Matthew's murderers, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, were found guilty of murder and kidnapping and are both serving two consecutive life sentences. McKinney without possibility of parole.

This afternoon John Aravosis over at AMERICAblog directs our attention to this article over at the USAToday describing the ten year quest of Mathew's mother, Judy Shepard, to get a gay hate crimes bill passed by congress, often called the 'Mathew Shepard Act' this bill would add homosexuals to a list of federaly protected peoples and make the killing of homosexuals motivated by 'hate' a federal crime.

I think i might be the only homo in America that thinks this is a Bad Idea, let me count the ways...

1) Thought Crime: People should be punished for the crimes they commit, not the thoughts they are thinking while they commit the crime. Does it make any difference if you kill me because i'm gay, or i stand between you and a million dollars, or even if you just don't like my stupid ugly face? At the end of the day i'm dead. And my killer should be punished for murder. Period.

2) Federalism: The Constitution lists a number of crimes that require the attention of the Feds, 'treason, high crimes at sea, etc,' and murder of any stripe is simply not amongst them. I believe in the principle of the federal republic, that certain powers are reserved for the States, and others for the Federal Government. Investigation and prosecution of murder is a State's responsibility. And it's not as if the States have been remiss, 45 states have hate crimes laws on the books.

3) Limited Resources: The FBI only has so many agents, and we really need them to be investigating drug cartels and people that want to fly planes into tall buildings.

4) Making Martyrs out of Monsters: This is honestly the big one for me. To quote Dave Rittgers over at the Cato Institute,

A real true believer, a hardcore racist or homophobe, would want to be prosecuted under a statute that criminalizes his motives. Prosecution under a murder statute makes him a common criminal; prosecution for murdering someone given special status by the government makes him a martyr for his cause and incites those motivated by his brand of hatred and animus.


You don't defeat politically motivated violence by politicizing the laws used to prosecute it.

This is an emotional issue. I can't even conseive of the pain and loss Judy Shepard must be experiencing EVERY DAY since her only son was taken away from her. But laws are dangerous things, with unintended consequences. We should make new laws rarely and with passion or bias. If we set ourselves apart as some kind of specially protected super citizenry i worry that we won't be making ourselves safer, but rather we'll be painting targets on our chests.


joey mAry hAb said...

you've missed the most important reason hate crimes legislation is wrong:
many gender and sexuality-based hate crimes are committed by folks who have underlying insecurities about their own sexuality and gender identities. in other words, straight folks who are comfortable with their sexualities, have little motivation to go beat down faggots and trannies. it is often those, who are, due to the extreme social stigmatization of and bias against lgbtq folks, in the closet or confused/afraid of their own sexuality, that commit hate crimes against queer folks. the response should not be to increase penalties/sentencing/incarceration in the already corrupt and flawed prison industrial complex against in the closet queers who take their internalized shit out on others. we need more community-based responses, rehabilitation, and hopefully reconciliation, to deal adequately with bias crimes. in my opinion, existing state, federal and religious discrimination contribute more to promoting/condoning acts of violence against our communities than do the lack of increased penalties for bias crimes...

Tas said...


Anonymous said...

Nice article:

Just a note on point 1). The law already looks to what people are thinking when they commit a crime. For example, to be found guilty of murder one must have the intention (mens rea) and have actually perpetrated the forbidden act (actus reus). If there is no guily mind there is no crime, or at least it will be a lesser crime based on negligence for example.

Therefore, in the case of a hyperthetical GBH case, the court will already be examining the thoughts/mental state of the accused. The question is then, is the crime equally serious when the intention of the accused was to beat up a man because he didn't like his shirt, or because he has violent reactions to otherwise peaceful but homosexual people?

The law is not merely focussed on consequences. It includes Kantian style ethics i.e. what was the intention behind the act? If like me you think it is more serious to want to destroy someone because of who or what they are, rather than because you drank too much and took exception to something trivial, then the case for hate crimes is strengthened somewhat.