It was October 6, 1998 when he was lured from the bar that cold, fateful night. His skull was smashed with a pistol butt as he was lashed to a fence, left for dead in near freezing temperatures. Nearly eighteen hours later he was found by passersby and taken to a hospital where we remained in a coma for several days until slowly slipping away. At his funeral, picketers carried signs saying, "God Hates Fags" and *Fags Deserve to Die."
Matthew Sheppard is one of the thousands of victims who have suffered from the form of violence known as hate crimes.
Someone commits a hate crime every hour. In the most recent data collection, 1999, a reported 7, 876 hate crimes were committed. This is a national crisis that we cannot allow to continue.
Today we will discuss the problems associated with this horrendous crime, causes for it, and finally steps we can take to prevent it.
The current laws in effect regarding hate crimes are limited. Additionally, victims who experience a hate crime suffer much more traumatically than victims of other crimes do. Hate Crimes not only affect the individual, but their entire community as well.
According to religioustolerance.org, last updated November 2, 1999, "The current law does not protect three groups that are particularly vulnerable to physical attack: women, the disabled, and homosexuals."
In New Jersey, one man with a disability, Eric age 24, was bound to a chair while several people allegedly burned him with cigarettes, choked and beat him and abandoned him in a forest. He was forced to drink urine and was warned that if he told police about the incident, his parents' home would be burned down.
While it is extremely disturbing that these groups are not protected, even the groups who are, cannot escape the pain and suffering caused by these horrendous acts.
In an excerpt from Hate Crimes Are a Serious Problem by Karen McGill Lawson and Wade Henderson found in the book Hate Groups: Opposing Viewpoints, the authors state, "Because the intention is to hurt, maim, or kill, hate-motivated crimes are five times as likely as other crimes to involve assault. And these assaults are twice as likely as other assaults to cause injury and to result in hospitalization." According to FightForYourRights.nitv.com, accessed June 10, 2001, the individual victim of a hate crime is more likely to be severely injured in body and in spirit than the victim of an ordinary offense.
On December 31, 1993 in Humboldt, NE, Brandon, 21, was allegedly raped and beaten by two men when they discovered he was a transgendered woman living as a man. One week later, fearing that they would be punished for the rape, they sought him out in a farmhouse where he was recovering from his injuries, shot him in the head, stabbed in the liver and murdered him.
It is one thing to be victimized for wearing expensive jewelry but it is quite another to be victimized simply for who you are. Along with the impact on the individual, hate crimes send a message that certain groups are not welcome and unsafe in a particular community.
In a June 5, 2000 article of The Nation, the Human Rights Campaign is quoted as saying, "Criminal activity based on prejudice terrorizes not only victims but the entire community of which they are a part.... Hate crimes effect more than just the individual attacked.... (they) rend the fabric of society and fragment communities."
After the Matthew Shepard murder in Laramie, WY, people in the town were awakened to the effects of how that hate crime effected the entire gay community. One resident was quoted as saying, "All kinds of people get killed everyday, but I'm not afraid to go down to the liquor store to buy a six- pack as some of these people were. That had a real impact on me.
So, as we have seen, hate crimes are a hideous act in our society. Not only do they effect the individual with long-lasting psychological effects, they effect the entire community as well....
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