OP-ED: Where Is the Hate of So-Called Hate Crimes?

Firstly, I must preface myself with the fact that I am not—in any way, shape, or form—downsizing violent events. It is not my intent to even begin dissecting crime at its base; I am not knowledgeable enough nor skillful to tackle such a broad subject. Nor is it my intent to proffer some justification of violent acts into a smooth sounding rhetoric. My main point is to engage in a dialogue as to what hate is and how such a complex concept works within the frame of current California legislation.

This being said, this article is motivated by the recent altercation over Labor Day weekend between several straight Marines and a gay Silver Fox patron that is being touted by many as a hate crime. The crime occurred just about a year following the August 30, 2011, sentencing of 21-year-old Jorge Jhovanoy Ibarrias to five years in prison for punching Martin Sanchez after asking him if he was gay, leaving Sanchez with a missing tooth and cracked teeth. 

It also occurred almost six months after 19-year-old Marquise Anton Lucas and 27-year-old Sierus Lamar Dunbar were sentenced to six years and four years, respectively, following their attack on two elderly gay men outside The Center on Halloween of last year (one of the victims suffered broken bones, spending multiple days in the hospital, while the other suffered several smashed teeth).

While I have my reservations about providing such sentences under the moniker of hate crime without some form of social rehabilitation given—I can assure you, their homophobia and bitterness will only increase while incarcerated—what the suspects did in both instances constitutes a hate crime. That is, they targeted a specific group and acted out against that group.

However, I feel that the most current altercation between Marines and a Silver Fox patron—which many have described as a drunken argument that turned violent—is being completely misaligned and misappropriated as a hate crime.

The idea of hate crimes is surrounded by controversy—and not necessarily for bad reason. As Western societies dealt with their abhorrent racism and religious bigotry, particularly the United States and Germany, they began to adopt statutes that would allow jurors and judges to engage in "penalty enhancement" if the crime were deemed to be bias-motivated.

California was the first of any U.S. state to adopt such a statute (Section 190.2) and in 1987, made a broad declaration in legislation that any crime could be deemed a hate crime. 

In 2009, the Matthew Shepard Act altered federal conceptions of hate crimes to include gender, gender identity and sexual orientation to the groups covered. The reason for the controversy is simple: how does one even prove a "bias" factor within a crime?

Of course, the oft-cited Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. cases in 1998 are what many—including myself—consider clear examples of hate crimes and though horrific, they (thankfully) permanently altered hate crime legislation.

The former involved two men who lured Mr. Shepard out into a Wyoming field after learning of his gay identity and severely pistol-whipped him, leaving him hanging on a fence. He was discovered hours afterwards by a bicyclist and died five days later after losing auto-functions such as body heat regulation due to damage to his brain stem.

James Byrd, Jr. was a black man who was dragged behind a truck for over two miles in Jasper, Texas. He was conscious for most of the time until his body hit a culvert and his head and right arm were severed off.

However, current legislation—particularly within California—seems to make a mockery of hate in crimes. In short, the law defines a hate crime in the following way: someone yells a derogatory term and then hits someone, a hate crime could have occurred since motivation was involved. However, someone drops the same term after they punch and a hate crime cannot be brought into the investigation.

To bring about the accusation of hate and call it a moment of seriousness is an understatement; it supersedes bigotry or simple intolerance and it goes much further than any form of ignorance. It is encased in a deep-seated hatred that pushes and drives someone to act violently against a particular group that is rooted in the hate.

And it is here where I come to Long Beach and the recent event at the Silver Fox.

The police and witnesses both conclude that alcohol was involved and that, in and of itself, makes the situation heavily murky. In fact, I find it very difficult to believe that if the Marines were homophobic to the extent of a willingness to partake in a hate crime, they would have ever stepped into a gay bar.

Even more, the bartender working that night—Sky Sunday—admitted he didn't notice of any odd behavior from the Marines prior to the bar being let out. In fact, he didn't notice them at all—they seemed to fit with the rest of the crowd. It wasn't until they were standing drunkenly in the middle of Redondo after close that he noticed them.

As for the victim—a 30-year-old Highland resident—he claims he was beaten unconscious by the Marines though his wording, "I just blacked out," seems rather odd and incommensurable with the police report, which stated he incurred non-life threatening injuries—not particularly on par with a beating severe enough to make one unconscious.

I must repeat that all of these allegations are thus far just that: allegations. As investigators sift through several comments that were thrown towards the victim, the only thing that seems clear is that a fight occurred—and little more. And last I checked, fights often involve derogatory terms, including homophobic, sexist and racist epithets. These linguistic attacks do not insinuate hate crimes—at least, the definition of a hate crime I believe to be ethically and justifiably sound.

To further add to the spectacle, a fundraiser was held for the victim with the advertising that "this is a community issue"—even though the assault, while presented to the District Attorney's Hate Crime Division, hasn't even been officially deemed a hate crime. Does "issue" in this case mean drunken altercations? Because in that case, I don't think that this is a LGBT issue anymore than a city-wide one; just ask anyone near closing time at Panama Joe's in the Shore.

The accusation of a hate crime should be highly serious and go beyond ignorance. The dropping of an anti-gay slur does not insinuate hate nor does a fight that happens to occur between a drunken straight person and a drunken gay person insinuate a hate. I don’t think hate is some widespread problem and I often think that, sadly, we seek out the term to make ourselves look more like victims, including through legislation.

Hate is focused, rare and deeply seated—and specifically in conjunction with the idea of a hate crime, it is meditated and practiced. They are personal crimes, dedicated to the immutable characteristics of a particular group. Take, for example, the 2008 murder of Marcelo Lucero in New York. The group of Long Islander teens eventually sentenced for the crime quite comfortably vocalized they often went "beaner hopping," turning their disturbing, repeated behavior into a kind of sport.

That is hate. They are sending a message—and one that is perpetuated within premeditated violence towards direct subjects.

With this recent incident and our legislation, we are cheapening the word hate and even worse, cheapening what hate actually is. We are making hate normative—and it is anything but. We are beginning to lose sight of teaching others about diversity and opting to put many (sadly common) behaviors on the same level as chaining a man up to a fence and pistol-whipping him to death.

I don’t mean to sound crude, but the last time I checked, the family and friends of Matthew Shepard were not having a party or fundraiser giving away prizes at the local bar following Matthew’s injuries. One does what The Center did following the Halloween attack: you engage the community in a discussion about how to further prevent such incidents—and not party around incidents that are unclear, convoluted altercations between multiple intoxicated people at 2:30 in the morning. 

While I understand the need to draw focus on hate crimes, I have to draw the line where it becomes not only tacky but undoubtedly within bad taste—particularly when such media and social events, despite advertising themselves as "a community issue," do not proffer a single communal dialogue as to how we prevent further incidences from occurring or how businesses can help.

So what, exactly, are we calling "hate"?

There is no doubt in my mind that there are many ignorant people out and about whose view needs to be expanded and whose minds need to be educated. However, hate is a vicious, vicious term that cannot be relegated to simple stupidity or ignorance. When I have a seven-year-old daughter of a friend telling me to "never use the word hate because it’s gross," I think this might cement the idea that it is not a term to throw around.

Outside of the horrifically, violently driven hate crimes which are well substantiated, why are we relegating the world’s worst characteristic and term to acts of ignorance? The gods know I most certainly wrote "faggot," along with a whole slew of offensive epithets, on a bathroom stall once. Does that mean I am filled to the brim with hate or does it simply mean I am naïve?

In a time where Long Beach has been shaken before—and rightfully so given the cases of Sanchez and the one outside The Center—and we are beginning to point fingers in a new situation, perhaps we need to step back as a community and take a moment of reservation.

I can assure you Mr. Shepard and Mr. Byrd, along with the many others who have been true victims of hate crimes, would appreciate the same level of reason and reflection.

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