Don't Respect Life
The increasing number
of reported hate crimes and some well-publicized attacks last year
have focused renewed attention on hate-crimes laws.
In June James Byrd,
a black man, was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to death in
east Texas. Then in October Matthew Shepard, a gay college student
in Wyoming, died as a result of being brutally beaten. The accused
killers of Byrd and Shepard are young men in their 20's and 30's.
About a week after
Matthew Shepard's funeral, Dr. Barnett Slepian, a physician who performed
abortions, was gunned down in his New York home. The hostile language
used by some pro-lifers was blamed for leading to his murder.
When the U.S. bishops
met the next month, they condemned abortionalong with violence
against abortion clinics and physicians who perform abortions. At
that meeting the bishops also urged dioceses to help end racism in
the Church and across the nation, calling it a sinful scar on religious
and secular life.
was introduced in 1997 in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R.3081)
and the U.S. Senate (S.1529). The proposed Hate Crimes Prevention
Act (HCPA) would set penalties for persons who willfully cause or
attempt to cause bodily injury because of actual or perceived "race,
color, religion, national origin,...gender, sexual orientation or
disability of any person...."
Critics point out some
limitations in this draft: It doesn't cover property crimes such as
black-church arsons and defacing homes of Jewish people with anti-Semitic
messages. Also, in order to justify federal involvement, prosecutors
would have to prove there was an interstate or foreign commerce connection
with the crime.
In July Mark Bangerter,
who survived a bias-motivated attack, testified before the U.S. House
of Representatives hearing on HCPA. He explained that he was beaten
unconscious last April in Boise, Idaho, because another man "perceived
me to be gay." Bangerter's injuries include "permanent loss of vision
in my left eye....Someone hated gay people enough to try to kill one.
The irony is that I'm not gay. This happened because I hugged a friend"
in a bar.
He says his attacker
has not been caught, and he believes that "Boise police have not pursued
my case satisfactorily." A letter he received from the F.B.I. explains
"that sexual orientation does not fall within the listed elements
of hate crimes [currently]. Therefore, the F.B.I. lacks the statutory
authority to investigate the attacks against you."
The federal hate-crimes
legislation that exists has its limitations. For example, the Human
Rights Campaign's (HRC) Web site (www.hrc.org)
says the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, in effect through 2002, doesn't
give the F.B.I. the authority to act: It strictly "calls for states
and localities to voluntarily report all hate crimes to the F.B.I."
so it can compile statistics. HRC supports enactment of the Hate Crimes
Prevention Act because state laws vary and many are not adequate to
protect people "because of their real or perceived sexual orientation
Regarding sexual orientation,
the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that "homosexual
acts are intrinsically disordered" but stresses that homosexual persons
"must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every
sign of unjust discrimination
in their regard should be avoided" (#2357-8).
League (ADL) addresses bias-motivated crimes on its Web site (www.adl.org):
"Federal authorities must have jurisdiction to address those cases
in which local authorities are either unable or unwilling to act."
ADL acknowledges that the Hate Crimes Prevention Act "will not result
in the elimination of these crimes," but a partnership between federal,
state and local investigators "should prompt more effective state
and local prosecutions."
"You've Got to Be Carefully
Taught," an ironic song from South Pacific, says,
"You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate..."
Many hate crimes are
committed by young people, notes the Anti-Defamation League. But,
with the attitude of a cockeyed optimist, ADL says youth are "still
reachable and teachable."
To help us teach respect,
ADL provides numerous resources, including a "Blueprint for Action,"
developed for the November 1997 White House Conference on Hate Crimes.
Educational programs were introduced there to "promote tolerance and
to combat the prejudice that lies at the root of bias-motivated crimes."
In addition, many law-enforcement agencies and cities have developed
policies and procedures that can be replicated in our schools and
Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., a hate-crimes victim whose birthday we celebrate this month,
said, "Morality cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated.
Judicial decrees may not change the heart but they can restrain the
heartless." Like the respected civil-rights leader, we can support
legislation to restrain and prosecute heartless behavior. In addition,
we need to teach respect and tolerance by our own example.M.J.D.