LONG BEACH (gorewon2000.net) - Last night, as my boyfriend and I sat down to dinner, I started surfing TV channels for a break from the news, and a little light viewing, before NBC's "The West Wing." What I came across, MTV's "Fight for Your Rights" Victims of Hate Crimes Scroll -- a 17-hour, commercial-free memorial -- was devastating.
I watched, and read along, as descriptions of these criminal acts were read aloud, in a "just the facts, ma'am"-style. I watched, that is, until they broadcast a picture of Matthew Shepard and described his murder. At that point, I left the room sobbing. I could stand no more. I had my topic for today's column.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law (1996) defines a hate crime as, "a crime that violates the victim's civil rights and that is motivated by hostility to the victim's race, religion, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender." Current United States federal law and the laws of many states, however, define this term quite differently, excluding crimes based on the victim's creed (fundamental beliefs), gender, sexual orientation, and disability. This is intentional. Any government, by its refusal to include these groups as protected classes, is making a political statement:
"If you are a victim of a criminal act because of what you believe (unless that belief is of a religious nature), because of who you love, because of your sex, or because of any physical or mental impairment you have, you do not deserve protection. Atheists, gays, women, and the disabled are fair game." (The subtext is clear: "They deserve whatever they get.")
During the sit-down Presidential debate, you may recall George W. Bush decrying improved hate crimes legislation on the grounds of "special rights." Do not be fooled by right-wing spin decrying "special protection" or "special rights." This is a damnable lie. Murder, kidnapping and assault are all illegal in every state. That doesn't prevent the federal government from giving its members "special protection" from these crimes, and imposing harsh penalties against perpetrators, even when the government cannot "...prove that the defendant knew that the victim of the offense was an individual protected by this section." In other words, even if there is no evidence that the crime committed was motivated by the victim's holding of federal office, the perpetrator is still subject to draconian federal penalties.
Another argument often raised against hate crimes legislation, by lawmakers and pundits on both ends of the political spectrum, is that it criminalizes thought. This is another damnable lie. The law allows evidence regarding motive ("something -- such as a need or desire -- that causes a person to act") to be introduced to help establish intent. Under our legal system, a perpetrator's intent defines the nature and severity of the act committed. Intent is nothing if not thought, and our laws literally hinge on this concept.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law (1996) defines terrorism as "1: the unlawful use or threat of violence esp. against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion, 2: violent and intimidating gang activity."
Hate crimes represent more than just the perpetrator's method of discharging their hostility onto a single individual. They are acts committed against an entire class of people, and are intended to intimidate the entire class. In a country that values diversity and freedom, they are intensely political acts, and seek to prevent whole classes of people from expressing their diversity or exercising their freedoms. Hate crimes send a message: "Stop being, or suffer the consequences."
WHY THE DIVA SUPPORTS EXPANDING HATE CRIMES LEGISLATION
Crimes against persons and property, when motivated by prejudice and bigotry, threaten the very survival of a civilized society. These crimes are terrorist acts, designed to destroy our nation's peace and stability, by supplanting community with suspicion, and security with justifiable paranoia. No American should have to live their day-to-day life in the kind of paralyzing fear that hate crimes seek to engender in their victims and others like them.
A nation's laws are its public morality.
It is long past time for the government to act.