Oct 172010

We cannot solve every problem with a new law. This is not a concept statists – meaning those who believe in the infallibility of government – support. I will go ahead and rain on the parade of Tea Party supporters by saying the majority of modern Democrats/liberals/progressives prescribe more to statism than socialism.

When a tragedy like Tyler Clementi’s suicide, or the killing of Matthew Shepard or the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. takes place, often the ensuing –– and for the most part appropriate –– uproar will include calls for hate crime legislation.

Those calling for hate crime legislation do so as a result of increased emotions, usually for people associated with, similar to or supporting of the victim’s trait, which qualified the event as a hate crime.

I don’t object to the use of the phrase hate crime to describe the event. But to legislate at any level that it is worse to kill, assault, bully or otherwise intimidate someone because, for instance, they are gay, than it is to kill someone while committing a rape is completely absurd.

What happened to Matthew Shepard in October of 1998 was horrific, appalling, dreadful and any other synonym you can find to describe the torturous beating of an individual. I would never say otherwise.

Nonetheless, there is no reasonable justification to make the crime committed against him, his family and the state of Wyoming a “worse” crime than if the perpetrators had done it to a heterosexual Caucasian male as a thrill crime.

The Tyler Clementi case has generated renewed calls for hate crime legislation primarily because when these events take place, we, as a society, are ashamed of ourselves for incidences we witnessed in the past and failed to intervene to protect the victim.

Bullying and discrimination are terrible, but they happen at every level of the food chain and at every level of society. You cannot stop it with a new law.

Our dependence on the government to protect us, our habit of seeking new laws to keep us safe and our support for government intervention in virtually everything is profoundly against the nature of the founding fathers.

I will not turn the column into a half-assed attempt to link hate crimes to the upcoming election, it’s not much of a stretch, but there are common threads. I won’t do it because the concept of hate crime legislation is something that creeps into our minds during the emotionally-charged first moments after a hate crime has taken place.

What we as a society need to do, instead of looking to legislators to keep us safe, is look to protect ourselves. As opposed to waiting for the government to give an order to evacuate our city that we know rests below sea-level with a Category Four hurricane bearing down on our Category Three-rated levees, we must evacuate on our own.

Instead of seeking legal deterrents after an incident like Tyler Clementi’s, parents everywhere should have asked themselves how to better prepare their children for the nastiness, pettiness, stupidity and unpredictability of the world.

Bullying is not a victimless crime, for obvious reasons, but those who survive bullying are better prepared to take on the world.

Were the world a better place, Tyler would have shrugged off what his roommates did to him, then found a way to turn the tables on them in a way they would not expect. Like buying the trailer park they will eventually live in and selling it to Walmart so they could find employment in-line with their intellect.

These events were criminal, but they aren’t made more criminal because the motive is more primitive. Murder is murder, arson is arson, rape is rape and assault is assault.

If tomorrow a gay man with no prior record kills a fellow gay man over a parking space while a white man with no prior record is killing a black man because he’s black, they should receive identical sentences.

Education starts at home; teach yourself, your children and your friends that it’s not only okay to be different, but also encouraged.

Seth Stern is a senior journalism major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 2:01 pm

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