Monica Roberts

Hate Crimes Laws-Needed and Necessary

Filed By Monica Roberts | February 22, 2008 5:11 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: African-American, hate crimes against LGBT people, justice, LGBT history, transgender

One of the things that irritates me is when somebody on the GLBT side of the equation (usually white) starts making these BS arguments that hate crimes laws aren't needed, are a waste of time or they start echoing the 'all crimes are hate crimes' conservaargument.

Hate crimes are any crime that is committed with an intent, either intentionally or unintentionally to send an intimidating message to a minority group. Under hate crimes laws when these crimes occur, they are given enhanced criminal penalties.

I'll give you an example of one that my late Grandmother Tama told me about that happened back when she was a little girl growing up in then rural Fort Bend County.

There was a wealthy African-American who sponsored a countywide Juneteenth picnic. One year he got tired of being gouged and disrespected while purchasing supplies at the local general store in Rosenberg, TX for the event. He decided to drive up the road to Houston, spend the money with Black owned businesses and get the picnic supplies he needed there.

The white males who owned the general store were incensed when they found out and decided they would teach the uppity n----r a lesson. They rolled up on the packed picnic site along with a few friends guns drawn, found the picnic host, and in front of horrified onlookers he was severely beaten for his 'crime' of looking for courteous service and a better deal.

I noted that while my grandmother was telling me this story, despite the fact this happened when she was nine years old and she was now in her seventies, she was angrily crying.

That's one reason why hate crimes need more enhanced punishments. Hate crimes are not just simple murders or beatdowns administered to someone. They have an effect on people far beyond the local site where they are committed and as my grandmother demonstrated, in some cases they affect people beyond the time period that the crimes were originally committed as well.

The Emmitt Till lynching in August 1955 had repercussions far beyond the borders of Mississippi where it happened and in Chicago where Till was buried. It basically jump started the Civil Rights movement.

The September 15, 1963 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham that killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and injured 22 other parishioners was such a crime. It was designed to intimidate not only the citizens of that city but have an effect beyond the borders of Alabama.

When the June 7, 1998 James Byrd dragging death happened in Jasper, TX his murder reverberated not only in the nearby Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange Golden Triangle area, it had repercussions in Houston, Dallas and with every African-American in eastern Texas.

I pointed this out when I lobbied my home state senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson last year in support of the Matthew Shepard bill. When her aide tried to use that 'all crimes are hate crimes' and 'murder is murder' spin line, I calmly pointed out to her that if Sen. Hutchinson truly felt that way, why did her boss attend the James Byrd funeral?

I get peturbed when I hear the words 'Philadelphia, Mississippi' because of what happened to the civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner there in 1964. It's a major component among other reasons of why I can't stand Ronald Reagan's racist behind. (Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign there)

Why do you think African-Americans go off whenever we see a hangman's noose or a Klan hood? It's because too many times back in the day they killed people and committed crimes that were designed to intimidate our community. That is what the kids in Jena, LA saw when those nooses in school colors were hanging from that tree.

The transgender community knows all too well what African-Americans have experienced. When Gwen Araujo was brutally murdered five years ago, the crime affected transpeople (and still is) in the Bay Area. There have been murders of transgender people in which their bodies were not only stabbed multiple times far beyond the point needed to kill someone, but sexually mutilated as well. The gay community has gotten a taste of what we've experienced with Matthew Shepard's killing.

So when I hear somebody say that hate crimes legislation won't help, or you're penalizing people's thoughts, that's bull. There are just certain crimes, like the ones I just highlighted in this post, that cry out for a punishment that goes beyond the penalties laid out for it or a mere slap on the wrist.

Hate crimes laws are not a waste of time, they are needed and necessary.


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Amen Monica, I agree totally. The recent deaths of Lawrence King and the transwoman in the Bronx are reminders that, LGB and especially the T people, are constantly in the sights of mean spirited and hateful people who think of us as lower than pond scum.

This isn't speculation, but fact, a fact proven time and again by the stories of beatings and deaths, violence against those "uppity queers" who just want to be left to live their lives in peace. Every time I hear someone quote the "tranny panic" defence for their actions, it is a knife aimed straight at the heart of all transwomen. That the killers of Gwen got only 6 years for their brutal crime is a travesty.

Protections are needed, now more than ever. With one group spreading lies and hatred out among the weak willed and feeble minded masses that flock to their banners, more criminals are being groomed to go after our community.

Michael Bedwell | February 22, 2008 6:40 PM

Brava, Monica, particularly after a recent puerile post disparaging hate crime laws.

As I've often said here, one of my personal heroes is the late gay black civil rights icon Bayard Rustin. One of the wisest of many wise things he said was that years and years of trying never succeeded in getting a federal anti lynching law passed but just the trying, just the message echoed again and again, locally, regionally, nationally, that such acts were no longer tolerated by the majority of society eventually had the same preventive result and lynchings, which amounted to nearly 5000 [known] between 1882 and 1968 [mostly but not exclusively of blacks] went from a common, ACCEPTED practice to a rarity in their traditional sense, though the brutal murder of James Byrd and the earlier murders of civil rights workers and others for the sole purpose of trying to stop civil rights progress qualify in their own way.

Anyone unfamiliar with the history of lynching in the US should study it. Far from just random murders committed in secret, they often were public events, organized days in advance and advertised and attracted thousands who journeyed to see [usually] men hung and or burned alive, often sexually mutilated, surviving parts of their bodies, their hair, their clothes sold as souvenirs.

In addition to supporting hate crime laws, financial support for the Gay American Heroes Foundation and their goal of a traveling educational exhibit illustrating the lives of some of the victims of LGBT hate crimes is both needed and worthwhile.

http://www.gayamericanheroes.net/

I don't think all criticisms of hate crimes legislation can be lumped together. Yeah, there's the conservative arguments that are basically facades for a a real distaste for anything that benefits minorities.

But there are also people who criticize the current hate crimes legislation going through Congress because it doesn't give any funding towards prevention of hate crimes and nothing to victim programs.

There are also people who don't see the criminal justice system as a means of achieving an abstraction like justice and see it as a means of reducing violence and wonder what adding 1-3 years to someone's prison sentence is going to do to reduce hate crimes. (I'm kinda still looking for empirical evidence that hate crimes legislation actually reduces hate crimes. If anyone knows of any, please post a link!)

What I'm saying is that I think, as always, we do ourselves a disservice when we write off others' opinions as "BS", b/c honestly most of everything we write on this site could be as easily dismissed by those people who have a problem with LGBTQ's. And they're harder to address if we just think people are idiots.

And, Michael, no need to call Jessica's and Mattilda's thoughtful posts "puerile" just because because you disagree with them. You know, don't have to agree to be polite, and I don't agree with them but they weren't just pounding the keyboard, it was something Jessica's researched and knows quite a bit about and something that Mattilda has some experience with.

I actually have an example that kind of supports the thesis that a hate crimes law could help.

While I was going through transition there was a neighbor of mine, a tenager, who every time he saw me he would say something like "looks like a man" to me.

One day he was giving me the treatment, when I told him, rather forcefully, that what he was doing was harrasment, and if it didn't stop I would call the police and file a complaint.

That pretty much shut him up from that point on. Some people, not all, will, when they learn of the serious nature of what they are doing, will stop, for fear of falling afoul of the law.

This will certainly not prove true in all cases, but it is a method that I have used to silence some of the discrimination that I have faced.

Thank you, Monica.

I agree with this 100% because violence done to one of us is violence to all of us.

And, it has to end.

Have a Transgender Day of Remembrance activity in your community. Invite the political leaders in your community. Educate them. While we might not have a Federal Hate Crimes legislation, we can have it on a local level.

Murder is the ultimate violence against us, but we need to stop the harassment and the teasing long before it escalates to violence.

Hell, no. We aren't going to take it any more.

My only problem with hate crimes legislation is when it becomes it's own crime. Here in Indiana I think they've taken the right tactic to dealing with it (if they ever get it passed!).

It should be a sentencing enhancement factor. Murder is murder. And it is hard to truly know what anyone was thinking when they committed a crime. But we can look at each case individually and decide whether there was a mitigating factor that should increase the sentence - as when a 90 year old woman gets raped or murdered. Some crimes are horrible and terrifying and should get extra punishment, I agree. Adding a new crime to the books though? That's where I draw the line.

This is a great post. I also count Bayard Rustin as a personal hero.

I think that the name "hate crime" is infelicitous. While certainly not all crimes are hate crimes, many violent crimes are. For this reason, I much prefer "bias crime", although there might be an even better name. And names matter.

To pass such legislation, it is important to persuade people, especially law enforcement, that such laws are not attacks on the first amendment and do help to reduce crime overall. Much as we would like to believe that everyone can spend hours each day informing themselves on important issues and judging the claims and counter claims of supporters of one side and the other, most people have lives and will absorb only tiny bits of information at a time. That is why complicated issues, like marriage, take years to explain. That is why a misleading title, or one that can be represented as misleading, will cost time, perhaps years, in the process of getting general acceptance, and the law adpoted.

The message that it is not, despite what your preacher says, acceptable in this country to intimidate groups of people, including trans people, lesbians and gays, is important in itself, and will lead to reduced violence. The reason for the law is not that we single out one person, whoever they may be, for special protection, but that we condemn the criminal for singling out one group to intimidate.

I'm afraid I don't agree.

Do rapes not incite fear in women? Do robberies not incite fear in the community surrounding its occurrence? How about murders?

ANY crime, whether it be racially-motivated, motivated by sexual orientation of the victim, motivated by greed or lust, or any other factor you can consider is going to cause fear in the community. ANY crime sends an intimidating message - that we're all vulnerable in some way or another.

At the point where we start adding hate crime enhancements to punishments, our government is sending its very own frightful message. It's punishing us for our thoughts, for our ideas of right and wrong. They essentially become Thought Police. We're no longer punishing people for actions, but for what they were thinking while they committed that action. There's a burden that comes with allowing free speech, and that's the knowledge that there's people who are going to be bigots, who are going disagree with what we think is right. But at the point where we start punishing people for those thoughts, we begin violating our own Constitution and rights.

While I can see where you're coming from, I find there are too many factors preventing me from supporting hate crime laws. Hate crime laws are too narrow, and while you obviously disagree with this fact, a crime is a crime, a murder a murder, a rape a rape. No matter what the motivation behind it, it's going to incite fear. I don't think it's okay to allow the government to begin regulating what's alright for us to think or believe.

"I'm afraid I don't agree.

Do rapes not incite fear in women? Do robberies not incite fear in the community surrounding its occurrence? How about murders?

ANY crime, whether it be racially-motivated, motivated by sexual orientation of the victim, motivated by greed or lust, or any other factor you can consider is going to cause fear in the community. ANY crime sends an intimidating message - that we're all vulnerable in some way or another. "

While on the face of it, this is true, there is an added factor to bias or hate crimes. The criminal act would not have happened if the victim was not who they were.

James Bird would not have been dragged to death b the young men who killed him, if he had of been a white man. Gwen would not have been brutall beaten to death, if she hadn't of been a transwoman.

"At the point where we start adding hate crime enhancements to punishments, our government is sending its very own frightful message. It's punishing us for our thoughts, for our ideas of right and wrong. They essentially become Thought Police. We're no longer punishing people for actions, but for what they were thinking while they committed that action. There's a burden that comes with allowing free speech, and that's the knowledge that there's people who are going to be bigots, who are going disagree with what we think is right. But at the point where we start punishing people for those thoughts, we begin violating our own Constitution and rights."

It is not the thought that is being punished though, it is the actions that are motivated by that thought. I can think that my neighbors have a very lovely car and I would like to steal it and take it for a joy ride. No problem as long as I just think about it, once I take that step towards acting on it however, and I cross a very definite line.

"While I can see where you're coming from, I find there are too many factors preventing me from supporting hate crime laws. Hate crime laws are too narrow, and while you obviously disagree with this fact, a crime is a crime, a murder a murder, a rape a rape. No matter what the motivation behind it, it's going to incite fear. I don't think it's okay to allow the government to begin regulating what's alright for us to think or believe."

Again, it is not the thought, but the actions that accompany such thoughts, that is to be punished. Even though all crimes could have the effect of causing fear, bias based crimes are more insidious in that they are directed crimes, crimes that focus on specific individuals. I am pretty sure most straight men do not worry about a gang of youths beating them up for being "queer".

Also, not all speech is, or should be protected. Hate speech has always been regulated, incitement is a crime pretty much anywhere you go. You still can't get away with yelling fire in a crowded theater. Try it and see how well the argument that you were practicing free speech goes over.

Ahleeshaa

The fact that some crimes cause fear, does not make them hate crimes.

While it is very hard to regulate speech, fortunately, in this country, we do judge the intent of criminals all the time. Fundamentally the essence of criminal activity is a guilty mind.

You cite murder and rape as examples of crimes where all we need to know is actions rather than intent: murder without intent is manslaughter, and rape is not merely sex, but the intent to force someone against their will.