MJ of the Delaware Liberal posted:
October 12th, 2011
Thirteen years ago tonight, Matthew Shepard died from a beating at the hands of two homophobes. Although both were convicted and faced the death penalty, it was through the grace of Judy and Dennis Shepard that their lives were spared.
Matthew was targeted for this beating because he was gay. He was taken to a desolate spot outside of Laramie, Wyoming, tortured and beaten, and left for dead. When his body was discovered, the person finding him thought he was looking at a scarecrow.
For those who think the we’ve come a long way since Matthew’s death, you’re wrong. Hate crimes against gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals continue to rise, especially in major metropolitan areas. Just last month, a DC police officers was arrested for assaulting a transgender woman.
We must never forget Matthew Shepard, James Byrd, and the hundreds of other victims of hate crimes that have been murdered. Never Again!!!
The two men who murdered Mr Shepard both received sentences of life without the possibility of parole, and one of them could have been sentenced to death. (The second man pleaded guilty in exchange for not having to risk capital punishment.) Of the three men who murdered Mr Byrd, two received the death penalty, and the third life without parole.
Given the sentences the murderers received, just how much more do you think the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act could have done to them?
Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was a homosexual. Scott Robins was killed in Philadelphia because his neighbor hated his loud music. Is Mr Robins any less dead? Was his killing somehow more acceptable, or less heinous, because his killer wasn’t shooting him over race or sexual preference?
Of course, murder isn’t always the end result of a hatred-motivated attack, but is it really worse if a man is assaulted because he is black than it is if a man is assaulted because someone wanted to steal his wallet?
To me, it’s pretty simple: all citizens should be equal under the law, and no citizen’s life is either more or less valuable than anyone else’s. If a man thinks that someone he sees walking down the street is homosexual, and decides to beat the crap out of him based on that judgement, he ought to be punished severely; if a man thinks that someone he sees walking down the street had a lot of cash in his wallet, and decides to beat the crap out of him in order to steal that wallet, he ought to be punished severely . . . and pretty much identically with the thug in the first example.
We have had instances in our history where the identity of the victim and the perpetrator determined the severity of the punishment. It wasn’t so long ago that if a black man raped a black woman, not much was done about it, but if a black man raped a white woman, he’d be lucky if he was only caught, tried, convicted and executed. It wasn’t too terribly far back in our past that if a white man killed another white man, he’d go to jail, and possibly be executed, but if a white man killed a black man, well, shucks, he was just having a bit of fun, and things got out of hand a bit, and, you know, he’s got a wife and kids at home, and that black fella, why he was just lazy and shiftless anyway, so why don’t we just forget this and go on home?
The hate crimes concept is one where we are saying we really disapprove of this kind of thing — kind of like how we keep sentencing people to death to show how angry we are with the killer, but have no real intention to actually carry it out — but it flies in the face of what we say we want, that being for everyone to be treated equally under the law.
The men who killed Matthew Shepard were never convicted of violating a hate crimes statute, but there’s really nothing more we could do to punish them if they had been. Two of the three men who murdered James Byrd were executed; somehow, I fail to see what more a hate crimes conviction could have added.
To me, those were the best possible outcomes (though, being opposed to capital punishment, I wish that the killers of Mr Byrd had been sentenced to life without parole instead): the law treated the killing of Messrs Shepard and Byrd exactly as the law would have treated the killing of anyone else, and the message in that is that there is no one in our society who is different under the law, no one who can be attacked just because he’s different from you.