You may have noticed the talk around the blogosphere about the murder of Hoosier Aaron Hall and the cries about why the mainstream media hasn't picked up on the story. Advance Indiana has a post from early May entitled "Why Won't the Star Cover the Hate Crime Killing of Aaron Hall?" that has gotten some play around the web lately - including links from Daily Kos, Towleroad and others - after the Bloomington Alternative did an article about the gruesome murder.
The story of the killing is certainly diabolical and shocking and the Kos post summarizes it succinctly:
Two young men in Jackson County Indiana said they were so freaked out when 'propositioned' by Aaron Hall on April 12th, that they proceeded to beat the 100 pound, 5'4 man for hours, using their fists, boots, dragging him down a staircase while his head slammed into each step, and then throwing him in a ditch and leaving. Aaron managed to crawl out of the ditch and out into a nearby field, where he died, alone and naked.
But there's still one major problem with the story and why it hasn't been picked up as a major reason why Indiana should immediately enact hate crimes legislation...
It wasn't a hate crime.
Now, as I said earlier, this is indeed a horrible and gruesome murder. The details of what happened that night and during the week following will turn your stomach. But the problem that folks are going to have in trying to promote the story as a reason to enact hate crimes legislation (and the reason why I haven't blogged about it before) is simple - Aaron Hall wasn't a gay man. He was a middle-aged, white, straight man and the last I checked, hate crimes legislation was about protecting members of a minority group when someone commits a crime intended to intimidate other members of the community. This simply doesn't fit the definition of a hate crime.
While the attackers are trying to use the "gay panic" defense for their actions, the facts simply don't match up to mark this as a hate crime. The "gay panic" defense, which is not legally recognized, means that the attacker was propositioned by a gay person and responded violently when they "panicked." It has been used successfully in some cases and the defendants are trying to use it here. Unfortunately, for the overzealous bloggers though, "gay panic" and "hate crimes" aren't necessarily inter-related. As Advance Indiana points out in another post:
Before police publicly announced the arrests of Coleman King, Garrett Gray and James Hendricks, rumors were circulating around town claiming that the accused were saying Aaron was gay and that he had AIDS according to [Crothersville resident Leslie] Horton. She worries that this might be part of an effort to shift the blame away from the accused and towards the victim by stigmatizing him in the hope of getting off easy. In a small community like Crothersville, virtually no potential juror would come to the case without prior knowledge of "alleged" or "rumored" facts. "While hate crimes are certainly terrible, people are losing sight that this man was not gay in the slightest, it was a ploy to make their crime seem justifiable since it seems to be condoned by some evil people in this world,"
While some have used this murder to point out that Indiana is one of only five states left that doesn't have a hate crimes law, I think that is a misguided argument that will only hurt us rather than help. One of the common arguments used against hate crimes legislation is that over-zealous prosecutors will charge folks with a hate crime when none has been committed. And in this case they would be correct. If you're a white straight guy killing another white straight guy while you're drunk and high, you're committing murder - not a hate crime.
In fact, the Bloomington Alternative story points to other Crothersville residents who say that homosexuality had nothing to do with the killing whatsoever:
[Indy Star editorial writer RiShawn] Biddle's assessment is shared by others, especially in Jackson County. Many of them see it as [a] bunch of kids drinking and going crazy.
An anonymous contributor wrote in Welsh's blog: "No one in the News knows what the hell they're talking about. I know what went on i really do. It wasn't a hate crime. Garrett hit him because he said F#%% you and your mom and his mom was dead. Anyone that knows him knows that."
One local woman, who also says the murder was not a hate crime, told the Alternative that Gray's mother has been dead for years.
So why isn't the Indy Star covering this awful hate crime? Simple. It's not a hate crime. It's just another senseless, awful, stomach-turning murder in a small southern Indiana town. A town that's not covered by the Star's circulation, mind you as the town is closer to Louisville, KY than Indy. While we all know that violence and blood sell newspapers, I don't see how this case is any different from the hundreds of murders that have happened in Indy in the past couple of years. There were several hideous crimes committed in Indianapolis lately that have been under-reported and this case is no different. It'll sell newspapers around Crothersville, but they don't reach there. And to your average Indianapolis resident, it would just be another story of a "bunch of kids drinking and going crazy."
And that's as it should be. Let's not make a mountain out of a mole hill. Murder? Yes. Horrible, gruesome, atrocious crime? Definitely. But hate crime? Not at all.
Bandwagon that'll bite us all in the ass? Oh yeah...