Jessica Hoffmann

Angry Brown Butch: "Hate Crimes Legislation Won't Help"

Filed By Jessica Hoffmann | February 20, 2008 1:25 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Angry Brown Butch, hate crimes legislation, Lawrence King, prison abolition, queer, Sanesha Stewart

Over at Angry Brown Butch (a blog well worth checking out, if you haven't already), Jack offers a queer, prison-abolitionist take on responses to the murders of Sanesha Stewart and Lawrence King.

Jack writes,

I cannot see how hate crimes legislation can do anything to protect anyone - queer and trans people, people of color, women, and other victims of hate crimes. Hate crimes legislation only works after the fact, after someone has been victimized, hurt, or killed. Hate crimes legislation cannot undo what has been done. Nor can it undo what has been done to our society and to the individuals within it: the inscription of hatred, of intolerance, of prejudice upon our psyches. Hate crimes don’t occur because there aren’t enough laws against them, and hate crimes won’t stop when those laws are in place.

Read the full post here.

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Jack's essay is an eloquent and rational response to intolerable circumstance. I didn't get a "queer, abolitionist take" from his musings, however. I perceived only the melancholy of a humanist confronted once again with senseless brutality inspired by ignorance and intolerance. The theme is old and tired. And every time that I encounter it I am moved to tears.

“how many ears must one man have, Before he can hear people cry?”
“how many deaths will it take till he knows That too many people have died?”
“how many years can some people exist, Before they're allowed to be free?”
“how many times can a man turn his head, Pretending he just doesn't see?”
“The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, The answer is blowin' in the wind.”
– from Bob Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind”

Jack’s essay asks us the same questions. The answer to those questions continues to evade us, even though mankind has dreamt of finding those answers for as long as there has been recorded history. How do we eliminate hatred and injustice? His solution is as passionate as it is rational.

“Instead of reacting to hatred with disapproval after the fact, we need to instill a proactive condemnation of hatred, prejudice and discrimination into our society.”

I like this response. I agree with it. But we are faced with a dilemma in any attempt to enforce it. It encroaches on the concept of free speech, and even on the right to think in terms that are arbitrary to the consensus of the majority. How can a system of Justice determine which thoughts and which words are flawed when the system itself is imperfect and corrupted with prejudice?

I don’t possess an answer, but I know that we have to continue to try to find one.

Michael Bedwell | February 20, 2008 4:26 PM

I saw the rantings of a masochistic professional victim/outsider who would kill themselves if they woke up tomorrow and found that somehow sexism, racism, homo/transphobia, ageism, poverty, injustice, hunger, war, and acne had been eliminated overnight.

$20 says, whatever Jack's race, he's got dreadlocks, the ultimate symbol of superficial political analysis and plastic passion in the form of "fashion." Vegan? Piercings? Tattoes? Second-hand tie-dyed clothes?

Which Panther was it asked, "Are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution?" The Jacks of the world are definitely the former.


Frankly I am appalled by your conclusions. After once again reading the article, I find no rational explanation to justify them.

Jack is sickened by injustice and bigotry. Simple. Aren't you? It leaves me exhausted. If that makes me a problem, wonderful.

The world needs more problems just like Jack.

Good read, but I think that the abolitionist message has a hard time taking with a lot of people because of it's absolute rejection of the crime-and-punishment model. I mean, people see that model in their lives, they see people avoiding negative consequences by altering their personal behavior, they see parents punishing their kids and the kids changing, they see that they slow down when they think they might get a ticket, etc.

I think that's why people just shut down when they hear things like "Hate crimes legislation only works after the fact, after someone has been victimized, hurt, or killed" because it comes across as hyperbole. And that's too bad, because there's a lot to the message that is clearly true, and there are so many solutions to many of these problems that'll prolly work a whole lot better than crime-and-punishment.

Not that it matters since these people aren't in positions of power to make themselves heard at the same level that the opposite ideology can.

Oh well!

I'm surprised that this discussion isn't prompting more responses... And, Alex, I find it stunning that you find nothing more than hyperbole in the argument that "Hate crimes legislation only works after the fact." Because anyone who actually believes that bigotry and hatred can be legislated is completely out of touch with reality. Hate crimes legislation will do nothing to actually change the way that people feel about whatever particular group. Why? Let's say Federal hate crimes legislation was already in play, passed, and was on the books to include sexual orientation and gender identity- now, do you seriously think that Lawrence King or Sanesha Stewart would have been kept alive by this?

Now, I will not be accused of bitching without having a solution- the only solution in my opinion to this kind of hate, is education. Aside from that, the more people continue to come out, the better it is going to get for the community to make inroads with society at large.

But, for all of the energy that these organizations put in to hate crimes legislation, I have to wonder if they truly think this is a real solution to violence against people, or if this is nothing more than grandstanding so that they can say, we went to Washington and won?

Part of the problem is that the power elite in this country uses the queer community as the boogey man who is going to bring down our great society because of our iniquities.

Whenever a preacher gets up on the pulpit, or goes on the television and rails against the gays and trans folk as sinners and abominations in the eyes of the lord, he just adds a little bit more to the climate of hatred and fear.

Just as Hitler used the Jews, we are the scapegoat for all the ills of society.

I don’t possess an answer, but I know that we have to continue to try to find one.

Isn't that all we can do?

According to the Justice (sic) Department Over 9.25 million people are incarcerated worldwide, with almost 50% of that total in US jails, followed by China and Russia. (The US has the highest prison population rate of 738 per 100,000 of its national population, well above Russia with 611per 100,000.)

Those astounding figures and this discussion highlight one of the central contradictions of a society structured entirely to increase the wealth of the rich. That question is: WHY ARE THE WRONG PEOPLE IN PRISON. Hundreds of employees or mercenary firms like Blackwater have committed war crimes. Insurance company executives, the INS and others routinely commit manslaughter or murder by denying treatment to patients. Priests, pastors, preachers, imams and rabbis whip up a climate of hatred that leads to violence. Corporate predators roam the land, charging outrageous interest rates, foreclosing, and exporting jobs. The environment is polluted by corporate swine who know they’ll never be prosecuted. And etc.

On the other hand examine the victims of US society where the political and judicial systems are handpuppets of the rich. These people, almost universally from the marginalized, working class edges of a racist society are frogmarched into a prison system that brutalizes them so badly that many cannot be repaired. Malcolm X survived the system and came out fighting but many other succumb.

This contradiction, more than most, points to the need for fundamental change in our society, change that will never come from the Democratic or Republican Parties.

When the situation progresses to the point that we win fundamental change we can empty the prisons of victims of poverty and racism and provide them with good jobs, Then we can set about and prosecuting and punishing the real criminals, including war criminals and those who abet them.