Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: Matthew Shepard Revisited

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Matthew Shepard Revisited

An airing of a 20/20 report concerning the nature of Matthew Shepard's death has caused quite a ruckus lately as it again stirs up arguments about hate-crime legislation and further stokes recent arguments concerning gay rights in America.

Hate crime legislation is a very tricky topic. On one hand, it's easy to say that you can't punish someone for what's in their head. "Thought-crimes" or any other Orwellian concepts of privacy invasion are certainly not grounds for punishment in this country (excepting, of course, assassination threats and some areas of the Patriot Act). It's impossible for anyone to decide with certainty what someone was thinking while they committed a crime.

On the other hand, you must take into consideration sentencing guidelines as they are applied to all violent crimes. A man who plots to kill his wife for months before doing so tends to receive a harsher sentence than a man who finds his wife in bed and kills her in a fit of rage. If the defense in a trial is allowed to argue such circumstances that would lessen a sentence, it seems only fitting that the prosecution should be able to do the same in order to increase it.

The argument against hate-crime sentencing is that if I was in a bar fight and punched two men--one black and one white--it would be entirely unfair if I were to receive a harsher punishment for assaulting the man of a different race than me. This makes sense. But if I punched one because he said something about my mother, and then punched the other because he was black/gay/asian/jewish/mormon and made it pretty damn clear that that was my reason for doing so, then I should be punished accordingly. One was a crime of passion. The other was a crime of passion fueled by hate for what someone stands for, as they live and breathe in the same world as me.

If there is any doubt as to whether such unadulterated hatred still exists in America following the high-profile Shepard case, we need look no further than Sure, it's just a website of a fanatical group that is exercising its right to freedom of speech and uncensored internet content. But look closer and see that the same group is in the final stages of erecting a monument in a Casper, Wyoming park to mark the death of Matthew Shepard. In a park. Where children play. The plaque reads:

Matthew Shepard entered Hell October 12, 1998, at age 21.

This is the same group that advocates the death penalty for all gay citizens of the United States of America. This is the same group that picketed outside of Shepard's funeral screaming "God hates fags!" at his mourning parents as they passed by.

Hatred is everywhere in America. Hatred is being dressed up by fanatical extremists in the guise of a religion that preaches tolerance, peace, and love when it comes to our fellow human beings. Hatred is being taught to children in the form of monuments placed where they play. Hatred is as much a mindset as premeditation, and should be treated with the same legal care and punishment.