Follow the Feds

Oct 052010
Authors: Collegian Editorial Board

In 1998, Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student from the University of Wyoming, was killed, beaten to death and left to die because of his sexual orientation.

A crime driven by hate and bias against homosexuality, his death was one of many that shed light on the absence of sexual identity and gender expression in hate crime legislation.

By 2009, after years of struggle and political debate, the Matthew Shepard Act passed, incorporating these factors into the definition of hate crime, at least at a national level.

As defined by the Department of Justice website, a hate crime is now a crime committed against a person or society, at least in some part, by a bias against race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

Finally, on the federal stage, crimes against someone’s sexual orientation would be punished more severely.

But some states have been slow to follow, and even in cases where that line between hate crime and accident or misunderstanding is blurred, there isn’t a clear-cut way to rule on a hate crime.

One of five recent gay suicides, Tyler Clementi stands as an example of this opacity, a person whose death seems, to some, the result of a hate crime, to others a tragedy at the end of a joke taken too far.

For the two students involved, their actions were dubbed an invasion of privacy, with the prosecution still considering hate crime charges.

But is this enough?

For Molly Wei and Dharun Ravi, this charge is a slap on the wrist. It’s establishing a precedent of light charges far from what is deserved in cases that, to many, seem to be hate crimes or worse.

States need to start taking these situations more seriously, realizing that the charges given for these crimes could be the deterring factor in the future.

 Posted by at 4:24 pm

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