July 04, 2007
Teen's death brings about attention for hate crime bill

The tragic David Ritcheson story has been unfolding for a few days now, and as mentioned on PinkDome and Houstonist in the last couple days, Ritcheson's recent death has brought a federal hate crime bill into the spotlight. From the Chron:

Supporters of hate crimes legislation mourned the death of Spring teenager David Ritcheson on Monday and vowed to push the bill he championed through the U.S. Senate despite President Bush's threat to veto it.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, credited the 18-year-old's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee for softening opposition to the hate crimes bill, which passed the House 237-180 in May. The bill is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

PD pointed out that the bill, the Matthew Shepard Act, has been co-sponsored by 43 senators - not including Cornyn or Hutchison.

The document said Bush's advisers would recommend that he veto the bill if it reaches his desk because the administration believes local and state hate crimes laws are adequate, and that the bill would give protected status to certain groups of victims, but not to others, such as the elderly, military personnel or the police.

The legislation would make it a federal hate crime to attack someone if the crime is motivated by prejudice based on the victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The current federal hate crimes law applies only to violence against victims based on race, religion, color or national origin, and only when the victim is attacked while carrying out a federally protected act, such as voting.

The bill also would make it easier for federal law enforcement personnel to assist local and state police in investigating hate crimes and would provide $10 million over the next two years to help cover the cost of hate crimes prosecutions.

You can contact Sens. Cornyn and Hutchison online to let them know how you feel about the bill. Violent hate crimes, e.g. David Ritcheson's, make for some of the most harrowing stories I've ever heard. The Matthew Shepard website calls hate crimes in America an "unrelenting and under-addressed problem," and any measure that will help to prevent or prosecute hate crimes deserves our attention.

Posted by Alexandria Ragsdale on July 04, 2007 to Crime and Punishment

At what point did society decide that murder motivated by bigotry of any kind is more hateful than murder based on greed, personal revenge, or anger? Can't we agree that all murder shows the same disrespect for human life? I agree that racial prejudice is a terrible practice, but I also think that our Constitution gives one the right to be racist, xenophobioc, homophobic, anti-semetic, or whatever else. Hate crimes legislation like this only punishes people for their personal, though misplaced, beliefs and feelings.
All murder should be punished equally. A pre-mediated and grusome murder like Matthew Shepard's should be punished the same as any other pre-meditated murder, with life in prison.

Posted by: Dukakis_in_a_tank on July 5, 2007 10:21 AM

Society didn't decide that some murders are more heinous than others -- any more than society decided any murder deserved punishment.

The law against murder is one of the cornerstones of civilization. That murder's motivations are often personal and intimate is taken for granted; but yes, it is very important to make sure that the people who commit the sorts of crimes that took David Ritcheson's life, took the life of Mr. Byrd, took the life of Matthew Shepard, are forced to serve their sentences completely. It is necessary to ensure that punishment fits the crime.

Posted by: The_Other_Sarah on July 5, 2007 6:01 PM

My point is that I don't find a premediated murder based on bigotry to be any more heinous than a premediated murder based on greed. My question about society was rhetorical. My point was that legislators at all levels around the country seem to see a need single out so called "hate crimes" as something worse than other crimes and I don't think society at large really belives that.

Posted by: Dukakis_in_a_tank on July 6, 2007 4:30 PM