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November 30, 2004

Newsflash: Matthew Sheppard's "Hate Murder" Is a Myth

So says 20/20, and I tend to believe them.

There are several problems with these hate-crime laws. First, they seek to penalize someone for a mere thought, when it is the action and the intent that have long been the only punishable elements of a crime. If you beat someone to death with a bludgeon and take his money, you're just a "mere" murderer. If you do the exact same thing but call him a "faggit" as you do so, now you're something worse than a murderer.

I don't know. To me, it seems that the murder is the really important trespass here. The "faggit" is an impolite and hurtful word that we usually don't jail people for. I think this desire to criminalize illiberal thoughts demeans the justice system, and diminishes the emphasis on punishing actual bad acts.

But in Sheppard's case, I don't sweat this particular problem, because these guys were murderers of one sort or another, and frankly I think they should either be locked in prison for the rest of their lives or put to death, under pretty much whatever which theory you might like.

So I have no real sympathy for them. Did they kill him just because they were greedy, violent criminals hoping to score 20 bucks? Did they kill him because he was a queer? Who cares? Either way, they're banished from society forever, and perhaps should be banished from the tangible, corporeal sectors of the earth as well.

But the problem is that Sheppard's death is taken as more important than, say, mine would be. There will be no HBO miniseries about me, should I fall pray to murder. There will be no prosecutors attempting to "send a message" regarding my hypothetical death. I'm just a white heteorsexual guy-- I don't really count.

Oh, sure, it's kinda bad to kill a white heteorsexual guy; but not super bad, as it is to kill a homosexual like Matthew Sheppard.

It's not so much the differing levels of punishment for hate-crimes that I object to, but the unavoidable differing levels of the valuation placed on human lives this regime creates.

Minorities complain that they are treated as second-class citizens. Often, they might have a point, and surely that feeling must wrankle.

But the law is now set up such that it more or less explicitly says that my death doesn't count as much as minority's. Sure, theoretically, there could be a hate-crime rap brought against a black man who kills a white man out of racial animus, or a homosexual who kills a heterosexual out of hatred of straights. But in practice, that just doesn't happen. Not because such things don't happen-- they do, and there are lots of cases to prove it-- but because prosecutors, the media, and minority lobbying groups just aren't interested in eradicating that sort of hate crime.

Everyone knows the deal-- these laws are intended for the protection of special classes of people. And there's nothing wrong with that, except for the unavoidable implication-- if there are special classes of victims, there must, inevitably, also be not-so-special classes.

And I am, alas, in several of those not-so-special classes.

It's not a good feeling to know that my government has deemed my potential murder as not terribly important, simply because of the color of my skin and my heterosexual orientation.


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posted by Ace at 01:07 PM

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