Let's revisit my hate crimes post that focused on the murder of Aaron Hall from last week. That post is still getting quite a bit of traffic, and I need to clarify something that's arisen time and time again in the comments section. Plus, I've found some other articles online that I'd like to point out to our readers.
The point of my original entry was to try to explain why the media wasn't reporting about Aaron Hall's murder as a reason why Indiana should have a hate crimes law. And I stand by my original assertion - it's simply too murky of a case to use as a defining example of a hate crime.
In looking back over my old post, one of the most clipped paragraphs on other sites was this one:
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.
I realize that my original post wasn't clear enough, but I intended this portion to go with the rest of the argument and not as a stand alone piece. I understand that perception counts when deciding whether or not a hate crime has been committed. Instead, I was trying to point out that the accused were trying to play the "gay panic"
card after the fact - a move that has resulted in the hate crime allegations. In the next paragraph I attempted to explain:
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.
And I still think this is correct - while "gay panic" is a form of hate crime, it isn't a hate crime if the perpetrators only attempt to use that excuse after the fact. It's the motivation when the crime happened
that's important - not the story concocted afterwards. I think that too much has been made of the hate crimes assertion and too little of the perpetrator's (or their advisor's) choice of defense.
Now that I have the time to explain myself a little more fully, let's look at the facts of this case as they've been reported...
- Aaron Hall was a white, middle-aged petty criminal with a meth and alcohol addiction.
- According to Hall's family and friends he wasn't gay.
- Official reports say that Garrett Gray, Coleman King and Robert Hendricks were drinking with Hall shortly before his death
- Gray and King are accused of beating Hall to death after Hall grabbed King's crotch and asked him to perform oral sex.
- The beating went on for hours until the three men loaded Hall's body into the bed of a pickup truck and dumped him in a ditch beside a country road.
- The men went back and retrieved Hall's lifeless body and hid it in Gray's garage
- Ten days after the beating, the body was discovered in Gray's garage after one of Hendrick's friends turned in the trio
But some important questions haven't been answered with this recounting. Right now to some it sounds like a straight-forward hate crime. But let's put on our thinking caps and look at this a little more closely. After all, if I can put reasonable doubt in your mind, how easy will it be for the defense lawyer to do the same thing in court? We'd all hate to see these three creeps get away with murder, so perhaps our focus should come off of "hate crimes" and be put into investigating the real crime(s) involved. It's not my intent to see these men walk for a horrendous murder. I just don't want to see it labeled as a hate crime, end up not being one and damage our chances at finally passing needed legislation here in Indiana.
These are some of the questions and concerns I have about the gruesome killing:
- Why was a middle-aged meth addict hanging out with kids barely out of high school? Was he there to buy or use drugs? No matter how you look at it, it's not typical behavior for a 35 year old man to be hanging out and drinking with a bunch of underage kids.
- The Bloomington Alternative reports that Gray's house "was something of a teen drug haven, and that at the time of the first punch to Aaron's body, some number of other teenagers were present." Who are these other teenagers and what do they have to say about the incident?
- Hall's beating went on for hours. How do two men keep up the energy to continue an assault this vicious for hours while a third just hangs out and watches? What motivation other than a hate crime usually involves attacking someone for an extended period of time to send a message? One easy answer in my mind is drugs. Look around our state and see how many violent crimes are committed either because of drugs or because the victim or offender were using drugs at the time? This would also explain why the attack went on for so long. Ever seen a meth user when they're on the shit? They'll go for days at super-high-out-of-your-mind-speed doing crazy things. Think of the stories we hear all the time of meth users having sex for hours when it seems to them that time stands still...
- Gray's father is the
elected appointed deputy coroner for Jackson County, but he can't smell a ten-day-dead corpse in his own garage? Did Dad already know about the murder before the body was discovered? According to the Crothersville Times, a witness said 19-year-old Garrett Gray, upon learning that Hall was dead, "began vomiting and making statements of what his dad would say when he found out about this incident." Did Dad help them come up with their defense or attempt to help hide the crime?
- The boys had a full ten days to come up with a reason as to why they beat Aaron Hall to death. They opted to say that Hall grabbed King's crotch and asked King to perform oral sex on him. Now, think about that for a second. Does a man usually grab someone else's crotch when asking for oral sex? Or does the man grab his own crotch and say, "Suck my dick"? Or what about the opposite, where the guy grabs someone else's crotch and says "I'll suck your dick"? The first is uncommon but the second two examples I've seen personally. With Hall going to hang out and drink with the teens, who is in the power position? I've seen a lot of meth addicts that would willingly have sex with just about anyone for a fix. Of course, I've also seen reports that the whole thing was a slur towards King's girlfriend and not King. Was she there too?
- How often do the stories of three men accused of murder match almost exactly? There's usually a component of "He did it. Not me." In this case though, the stories match almost completely. This seems to be the hallmark of the defendants conspiring to come up with a cohesive story or at least some sort of mutual defense. Now, factor in that all of the kids were drunk at the time of the crime over a week before and reflect on how likely it is for all those stories to match so well. You can see my skepticism here.
- With Gray's father a[n]
popularly elected official in Jackson County can there be a cover up going on? It obviously wouldn't be good politically for the county coroner's house to be exposed as a local teen drug hang out, now would it? As the Bloomington Alternative reports:
The influence of power cannot be ignored, either. Hushed tones accompany the mention of certain names, and the ever-present buzz of fear has residents considering using false names or refusing, outright, to speak on record... Most are afraid to go on the record, for fear that local law enforcement will remember the indignity and further abuse their power through false arrests, trumped-up charges, botched investigations and abject corruption. What role does corruption play in this? Is it a cover-up?
- Why was Hall naked when his body was found? If those teens were so homophobic they gruesomely murdered Hall, why did they strip him naked? Removing all of the victim's clothes often adds a sexual component to the crime. Was Hall meant to live and just be entirely humiliated? This could also explain why the accused took pictures of Hall during and after his beating and sent them around to other teens. It sure looks like they were trying to send a message and that message could just as easily be, "Look what happens when you fuck with your dealer" as "Smear the queer."
I, personally, think that there are plenty of reasons not to tout this as a picture perfect hate crime. To me it has all the hallmarks of a drug crime. The "gay panic" defense is clearly disturbing in that the accused (or their advisors) obviously thought that it would explain away their actions. That is the reason to point out why hate crimes are necessary: the kids thought by saying Hall was gay they'd be able to, literally, get away with murder. What does this say about the lives of LGBTQ Hoosiers? That if we express our sexuality we deserve to be beaten to death? That if someone is gay - or is suspected of being gay - it's okay to murder them?
"Gay panic" will often lead to a hate crime. By not recognizing hate crimes to start with and by giving "gay panic" defenses a wink and a nod, is the state not only tacitly endorsing violence against our community but effectively reducing the attackers' punishment? Because, remember that this is a moot argument in Indiana - the men didn't commit a hate crime legally because we don't have a hate crimes law. The social injustice of the "gay panic" defense as a tool to attempt to gain sympathy with the jury is a much more compelling reason to argue in favor of hate crimes legislation. Rather than trying to portray a gruesome murder as a hate crime when other alternatives are clearly possible, let's start a discussion about the moral cesspool that is the "gay panic" defense.
In all, I think the questions that I still have about this case help to explain why the mainstream media haven't jumped on the bandwagon to label this a hate crime. It doesn't, however, excuse the neglect that the media has shown in covering the case at all. As I explained in my previous post, I think that has a lot more to do with the bottom line, circulation figures, etc. than a deliberate attempt to muzzle a story. We all know "If it bleeds, it leads." Unfortunately, this story bleeds in an area the Indy Star doesn't sell newspapers in...
In fact, in a recent Nuvo story by Laura McPhee, she looks at another case neglected by the media besides Aaron Hall. This story is obviously a hate crime - and it should be the example our legislators and citizens scrutinize as an example of why hate crimes laws are needed. A black man was severely beaten on the downtown streets of Indianapolis by skinheads just as the hate crimes legislation died in the statehouse this year. The Indy Star's neglect of this story is definitely worthy of discussion as well. You can't say Indianapolis is outside of the Indy Star circulation area!
In closing, I'd like to point out a fascinating article from the New York Times which recently mused, "To Commit a Hate Crime, Must the Criminal Truly Hate the Victim?" In a New York criminal case, three defendants are charged with murdering Michael Sandy:
Prosecutors have said a group of young men contacted Mr. Sandy through an online gay chat room, selecting him as a robbery victim in the belief that a gay man would be unwilling or unable to put up a fight and unlikely to report the crime.
The defendants -- John Fox, 20; Ilya Shurov, 21; and Anthony Fortunato, 21 -- have been charged not just with murder, but with murder under the state Hate Crimes Act of 2000, which provides longer prison sentences for crimes motivated "in whole or in substantial part because of a belief or perception regarding the race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of a person."
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have presented contrasting interpretations of that phrase, the words it includes and the words it omits.
In court documents, a defense lawyer has asked Justice Konviser-Levine to dismiss the enhanced murder charges against all three defendants because "the crimes alleged are not crimes of hate but rather crimes of opportunity."
Hate crimes can be tricky things. Is Sandy's case a hate crime if hate wasn't the motive? Is Hall's case a hate crime when sexuality may not have been the real reason for the attack? I think that sometimes we may be too quick to jump on the bandwagon without examining things closely enough; I know I've done it before. We want to claim the moral high ground so badly we'll climb there no matter what - without realizing that we already had it to start with.
After all, if homophobia and hate had nothing to do with Aaron Hall's murder - and was just an excuse invented days after - is it a hate crime? I don't think so. It's a horrible attempt to cover up the crime by using gays as the scapegoat. While still atrocious, it is vastly different. As I said before, if this turns out to be a homophobic attack, I'll be the first one to use it as an example of a hate crime. But for now, I'm going to hold off on that. I'll be talking about "gay panic."
I don't have all the answers, but I have a lot of questions.