Saturday, November 27, 2004

Hate crimes

Having finally digested the Thanksgiving dinner that some friends forced upon me/you don't think I'd eat that much all on my OWN, do you?/, I want to put some thoughts down.

Ann Althouse has a piece about a show 20/20 was doing about the Matthew Shepard murder. Basically, it points out that it was a lot less due to the supposed hate of homosexuals, and a lot more to do with simple robbery and murder related to drugs. And about all the screaming by people who've used the 'approved version' of the murder to push their political vision, and don't want their tear-jerking fund-raising story challenged.

For a lot of people, it's not enough that it be a horrible murder; it has to be a horrible murder committed for the 'right' reasons, so it can be used to push an agenda. Which is another reason I don't like the idea of hate-crimes laws.

This was, no mistake, a terrible act. But it's supposed to have been worse because, in the way it was originally put forth, it was committed because Shepard was homosexual. He's no more dead because the reason for the act was one thing or another; it was no more or less horrible a way to die; but we're supposed to be especially outraged because of what the murderers had in their minds when they did it.

This would mean that a: we're supposed to figure out exactly what someone was thinking when an incident happened, and b: that there are classes of victim that are more important than others. The one is usually impossible, and the other is despicable.

Someone punches another guy; turns out the guy punched was gay; therefore it's a worse crime than if a straight guy was punched? Horsecrap. Besides the fact that he's no more damaged than anyone else, how the hell to you prove what the puncher was thinking? He may have punched for some reason that has nothing to do with with sex, but it will be automatically assumed by many that it did. Especially by those who stand to gain; a prosecutor making a reputation as a 'defender of minorities', activists who need someone new as a victim to trumpet, and so forth.

There's a reason our laws are based on what you do, not what you think. Thinking about something is not a crime; actually planning an act can be. There's a big difference. If you commit an assault or murder, I don't really care what was in your mind, I care that the crime be punished, the punishment being for the act, not for your supposed thoughts.

Yes, I know that someone can plan to do something for a stupid/evil reason. Doesn't make what they did to someone any worse. If someone plans to torture someone to death because of something they are, it doesn't make the act any worse than if they picked someone at random. It can show that the actor had premeditated the crime, and that should affect punishment. But to me, that should be the extent of it.

For what it's worth.

Update: Althouse says the 20/20 piece was less than convincing to her. I didn't see it, so I can't say. Doesn't affect my opinion on the matter of 'hate-crime' legislation. Whether as part of a robbery or because Shepard was homosexual, or a mix of both, he's dead. And the ones who did it are in prison with the maximum penalties a jury would give. Saying their state of mind at the time of the crime was unapproved wouldn't change either the death or their punishment.
Another thing that bothered me was that when it was announced that 20/20 was going to do this segment, they caught a lot of grief from people, basically for daring to put out something that challenged the 'approved' version of the story. Happily, they went ahead. If their information is bad that'll come out, and if they put out information people should know about this, that's to the good. I do not like news being censored either by screaming or by people in a newsroom more concerned with being PC than with getting facts out.

Further update: Clayton Cramer has some more on this, and saw the 20/20 piece a bit differently than Althouse.

More: forgot about this article at Reason on the Shepard case


Special Touch said...

"For a lot of people, it's not enough that it be a horrible murder; it has to be a horrible murder committed for the 'right' reasons, so it can be used to push an agenda."

Like opposing hate crime legislation, for instance?

Regardless of how you feel about hate-crime legislation, the 20/20 claim that Matthew Shepard was killed in a "simple robbery" is not at all supported by the facts. 20/20 relies on the words of the murderer himself, Aaron McKinney, years after his conviction, and the statements of McKinney's equally uncredible friends (see GLAAD viewer's guide to the 20/20 program).

In fact, Aaron McKinney himself, less than three days after the murder, confessed to killing Matt (whom he repeatedly refered to as a "queer" and a "fag") for supposedly making an unwanted sexual advance. See Sounds Like Just a Robbery for an excerpt from McKinney's confession.

Firehand said...

Opposing hate-crimes laws is an agenda? As I said above, a crime is a crime; saying someone is extra-guilty because someone is part of a 'protected group' is not a good idea.

I did not see the 20/20 episode, and at the time didn't really care why the bad guys said they committed the crime. Partly because I cared more that they had been caught, and partly because I don't particularly trust a just-caught murder suspect to tell the truth, whole truth, etc. I do point out that the situation is not as cut & dried as has often been painted.

And if we're going by the statements of McKinney and his 'equally uncredible friends', which ones do we use? The ones made at the time, or those more recent?

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