We live in a society and under an administration that is ruled by fear of terrorism. We hear it all the time: “Everything changed on 9-11.” We have threat levels depicting how scared we should be and telling us where we should be most frightened, like airports or New York City. The threat of terrorism was so frightening that we allowed some of our leaders to march us off to war. Yet those same terror-obsessed voices are against hate crime legislation that would stop what I see as domestic terrorism of the worst kind.
Hate crimes are, by their very nature, designed to strike fear into not only the person attacked, but also the group to which that person belongs, or is even perceived as belonging to. They are meant to terrorize an entire class of people. “Regular” crime focuses on the singular person or people directly involved. Hate crimes have a much larger impact. They have many more victims than just the person directly attacked.
It’s true that 9-11 changed how safe many Americans felt as a nation, especially younger generations who had had never felt the effects of terrorism. Many felt they were not safe or that they could be attacked just for being Americans. I would say this is the exact same feeling that LGBT people, or any other minority, feel when there is a hate crime. It makes us all take a minute and think, “I could be harassed/attacked/killed for just being who I am.” When someone is attacked solely on the basis of what group they belong to, it sends a ripple effect out and makes everyone else feel they were part of the attack too. Sounds like a terrorist act to me.
Now some say this is apples and oranges, that large scale terror attacks cannot be compared to individual hate crimes. I would say that the effects of these “smaller” crimes are just as chilling as the large scale attacks. I know I personally felt affected and scared after Matthew Shepard was attacked and killed simply for being gay. It could have easily been me. Every time I hear of another crime committed based on sexuality or gender expression, I realize that I could be next just for being who I am. The ripple effect spreads from the one victim to all of us, raising our own internal threat levels.
“Hate crimes seek to intimidate entire groups of Americans,” Senator Gordon Smith has said, speaking in regards to the Matthew Shepard Act, “Hate crimes do more than just harm one victim, they terrorize an entire society. They send an ominous message of hate and intolerance to all Americans and we cannot be complacent or tolerate of such acts of hatred.” So why do many conservative voices, who love drumming the beat of terror, have a problem with hate-crimes legislation? Shouldn’t attacks on an entire group of people be treated with more severity since there are many more victims? Where is their outrage? Why do they not want to ship them off to Gitmo with all the other terrorists?
The inconsistencies in the reactions to terrorism and hate crimes must stop. You can’t support punishing terrorists only if you like the people being affected. Just because these conservative fear-mongers may not like LGBT community doesn’t make the effects of hate crimes any less. Want to really be tough on terrorism? Support fully-inclusive hate crimes legislation. No one deserves to live in fear.