Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hate Crimes Bill

I write a lot of letters to my congresspeople, and frequently they write back. Occasionally I even get a phone call, but usually I just get an email or letter. If you write regularly as I do, you tend to get an actual response instead of a form letter - although I get lots of those too! I haven't discovered the number for the floor fax yet, but I do have the number of the California floor fax, and believe me, when a bill is on the floor and the doors are locked, it's a great way to reach out directly!

I've been working on a post about Rep. Foxx and her comments about Matthew Shepard, but when I'm that hot, I usually let it percolate for a bit before I finalize it. I decided not to post it as it is now sort of old news, and I don't really have anything to add to the discussion. And, a bit ago I got a letter from my congressperson that really ticked me off. I had written awhile back asking him to support the hate crimes legislation and although he's a Republican, he's actually not such a bad sort. But, he wrote back along party lines (why did I think he'd be any different?) and informed me that all crimes are hate crimes and that just because someone is a member of a group, and a 'conditional' one at that (boy did I go into a burn at that!) they shouldn't get 'special' protections.

What is it with this 'special' stuff? Can't they understand the difference between equal and special?

Anyhoo, here's my response back. Some of my ideas came from Rachel Maddow I freely admit as I watched her show last night. The words are mine, but she really crystalized the ideas I and others have been trying to say about why it matters to the community.

Dear Congressman:
Thank you for responding to my comment about HR 1913. I am sorry that you believe that hate crimes legislation is intended to and will in effect provide stronger protection for some people based on certain characteristics—which you say are for many, conditional—rather than promoting equal protection for all people. While I would argue with your characterization of homosexuality, which I believe is what you refer to, as conditional that is not the point of this letter. Rather, I would ask you to consider, for future reference, the true meaning of a hate crime.

Many believe that if a hate crime is treated differently than other crimes, it is antithetical to the principles on which this nation is founded. I would remind you that we already have disparate sentencing based on group membership, i.e., for gang members.

Persons who are victims of hate crimes, as Matthew Shepard was, are not the only intended victim. The crime is intended to terrorize the entire group—and send a message as to—in his case—the homosexual community—what happens to those who dare to identify themselves publicly as homosexual. You say that all crimes “are spurred by hate.” I absolutely disagree. I worked with offenders, and yes, some of their crimes are spurred by hate, but a relatively small percentage. What motivates my clients crimes are poverty, substance abuse, a history that has prevented them from learning any other way of life—a sense that this is how you get by because there are no other options. My clients, even those just out of prison, fear terrorists, value our soldiers, respect our President, and have little tolerance for those who are different. Hate crimes grow out of ignorance and intolerance.

The value of a federal hate crimes law, is that local authorities are sometimes blinded by the same prejudices as those that commit the crimes. The initial crime while against one person, at its core, is designed to breed fear and terror in the entire group. As such, the federal government should take an interest in ensuring that a mechanism is in place to solve and prosecute these crimes, particularly if local authorities are not so inclined. Without hate crime legislation, if the local law enforcement or district attorney does not want to get involved, the Justice Department then has the choice to step in and ensure that groups are not terrorized simply because of who they are.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

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