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Hate Crimes.


Should there be special laws against them?

In the United States, for all its belief in equal rights, members of minority groups have often had to pay a terrible price just for being who they are. Its most compelling image has always been the black figure at the end of a lynch rope, hanging from a tree. But other groups-including homosexuals--have been victims of that murderous impulse too. Gradually, crimes motivated by hate have come to be seen as a category of their own.

Forty states have passed hate-crime laws, but 19 of those do not cover sexual orientation. Ten states, including Wyoming, have no hate-crime laws at all. There is no adequate federal standard of what constitutes a hate crime, and nothing could make plainer the need for one than the way young Matthew Shepard died in Wyoming in October 1998. By all reports, Shepard was befriended in a bar by two young men, then driven away to a lonely spot, tied to a fence, bashed in the head with something heavy, and left in almost freezing weather for 18 hours until he was found. He died soon afterward.

The men accused of killing Matthew Shepard are being tried for murder. But his death makes clear the need for hate-crime laws to protect those who survive and punish those who attack others, whether fatally or not, just because of who they are.


The New York Times


Why is hate for a group worse than hate for a person? In Laramie, Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten to death, vicious murders are not unknown. In the previous 12 months, a 15-year-old pregnant girl was found east of town with 17 stab wounds. In 1998, an 8-year-old Laramie girl was abducted, raped, and murdered, her young body left in a garbage dump. Neither of these killings was deemed a hate crime, and neither would be designated as such under any existing hate-crime law. But which crime was more filled with hate? Once you ask the question, you realize how difficult it is to answer.

The supporters of laws against hate crimes argue that such crimes should be disproportionately punished because they victimize more than the victim. Such crimes, these advocates argue, spread

fear, hatred, and panic among whole populations, and therefore merit more concern. But, of course, all crimes victimize more than the victim, and spread alarm in society.

Violence can and should be stopped by the government. In a free society, hate can't and shouldn't be. The boundaries between hate and prejudice and between prejudice and opinion and between opinion and truth are so complicated and blurred that any attempt to construct legal and political fire walls is doomed.

Indeed, our media's obsession with hate may even play into the hands of the evil, may breathe air into the smoldering embers of their paranoid loathing. For all our rhetoric, hate will never be destroyed. Hate, as our predecessors knew better, can merely be overcome.

--ANDREW SULLIVAN The New York Times Magazine
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Article Details
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Author:Sullivan, Andrew
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 29, 1999
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