Recent hate crimes have grabbed the headlines but more for their legal twists and turns than for their actual prosecution. We were first riveted by the West Virginia case where a black woman was tortured for over week by six white captors who called her racial epithets as they sexually, physically, and mentally abused her.
However, since the captive, Megan Williams knew her attackers and possibly had a social relationship with one of them prior to her attack; authorities have declined to apply hate crime statutes to the case just yet.
Meanwhile in New York City, attackers of a gay black man, Michael Sandy stand trial for his murder. Sandy was targeted and lured in October 2006 from the gay sex website, Adam4Adam.com and was later robbed then killed by a passing car as he attempted to flee from his attackers.
In an earlier ruling, Judge Jill Konviser of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn ruled that although robbery was the intent and not anti-gay hate that the New York state bias crime statute could still be used to prosecute his attackers without a motivation of hate.
But this week one of Sandy’s attackers, Michael Fortunato confessed in court through his lawyer that he himself is gay and because of this revelation, there is an argument whether or not Fortunato should be tried for an anti-gay hate crime.
From Gay Panic to Hate Crimes with Exceptions
We’ve seemingly grown from using gay panic as a defense to splitting hairs over intent and now mutual identification. In the West Virginia case, prosecutors mistakenly feel that because Megan Williams was not randomly selected at a Wal-Mart parking lot based on her race but instead she knew and even dated one of her attackers, that her torture doesn’t measure up to being a racially motivated hate crime.
And in New York City, Michael Fortunato’s lawyers mistakenly argue that since he and the victim, Michael Sandy were both gay, that there could not possibly be hate motivated interaction between the two of them that is based upon their sexual orientation.
In both instances the line of thought is flawed and time, energy and resources are being wasted on the attempts to exonerate the defendants from their own guilty actions
Megan Williams who is slightly mentally challenged was targeted based upon her race along with other possible factors. The fact she knew her attackers should not make a difference. Statistically we know that most assaults are committed by individuals who know their victims. Hence there is no basis for the authorities to not pursue hate crimes prosecution.
In the New York City case of the death of Michael Sandy, we need only be reminded that statistically those who are usually vehemently opposed to the LGBT community in every arena, politically, religiously, and physically often have latent homosexual tendencies. These tendencies are internalized in a form of fear and hatred towards themselves and others who remind them of themselves.
Additional Reasons to Pass the Hate Crimes Bill
If the pending Hate crimes bill were already passed and signed into law, Megan Williams could potentially have been protected in two additional areas. There already exist legal protections based upon racial bias which she is protected under. But the new proposed hate crimes law would further provide protections to Williams because she is both a woman and a person living with a disability. Her attackers could potentially be tried on up to three counts under the expanded hate crimes law.
Further, authorities should not shy away from using hate crime protections even if it does not fit neatly into a legal box. Electing not to prosecute under the hate crimes law creates a very dangerous precedence of using personal gut instinct versus the overall theme of intimidation which clearly runs throughout all anti-bias cases.
The LGBT community should not be led astray into thinking that we must now begin to identify and categorize hate crimes based upon the criteria of previous relationship or of like sexual orientation.
Hate is Hate no matter how much one attempts to dress up its approach. We must remember this as we continue to advance the legal protections of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men, women, and youth.