I definitely support the strongest penalty possible for such a crime. We have no way to prove if Shepard really did make an advance toward his killers, but that really makes no difference. Nobody deserves to die for expressing interest in the wrong person. Nobody needed to get so offended by an advance considered inappropriate that it justified murder.
The problem lies not within the punishment called for the crime, but in the definition of the type of crime. "Hate crime"? I don't believe that any violent crime is ever committed out of love for the victim. It makes no difference whether the crime is a murder, a mugging, a sexual assault, or anything else: part of crime is depriving a person of the rights of life, liberty, and/or property. Matthew Shepard is just as dead as a straight man would have been if he had been beaten and left in the cold field. A rape survivor loses her sense of security and ability to go about her business without fear whether she is straight or lesbian. The robbery victim is left without his possessions regardless of his race, religion, or any other identifying characterstic.
We already have laws on the books meant to bring justice upon perpetrators of violent crime, regardless of who the victim may be. Why are we not enforcing these laws instead of building a second level of legal justice by differentiating between "hate crime" and any other violent act? What really is the difference, from the victim's perspective, whether the perp was acting out of bigotry or just plain wickedness? Loss still occurs, whether it is personal safety, possessions, or life itself. Why do we even bother trying to make new laws about "hate crime" when we can't even enforce the "equal opportunity" laws we already have?
Also, what makes the suffering or death of any person more or less of a tragedy than anyone else's? Shepard's suffering should not be minimized because he was gay, but then a heterosexual crime victim's suffering should not be minimized because the violence did not fit the description of a hate crime. Our current laws should be enforced without prejudice and without special favors. No victim should see justice denied and no perpetrator should get preferred treatment due to life circumstances.
I firmly believe that the killers of Matthew Shepard deserve the strongest possible punishment for their crime; however, I'd like to know that the same justice that should be exercised on his behalf would also be given if it had been a man in my own life who had been left to die.
I believe the line is "liberty and justice *for all*", no matter what?
Then when will we finally act like it?
This article copyright © 1998 by Lara Ray, and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.