Waymon Hudson

Hate Crimes: The Domestic Terror Threat

Filed By Waymon Hudson | October 19, 2007 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: 9/11, hate crimes against LGBT people, Matthew Shepard, terrorism

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWe live in a society and under an administration that is ruled by fear of terrorism. We hear it all the time: “Everything changed on 9-11.” We have threat levels depicting how scared we should be and telling us where we should be most frightened, like airports or New York City. The threat of terrorism was so frightening that we allowed some of our leaders to march us off to war. Yet those same terror-obsessed voices are against hate crime legislation that would stop what I see as domestic terrorism of the worst kind.

Hate crimes are, by their very nature, designed to strike fear into not only the person attacked, but also the group to which that person belongs, or is even perceived as belonging to. They are meant to terrorize an entire class of people. “Regular” crime focuses on the singular person or people directly involved. Hate crimes have a much larger impact. They have many more victims than just the person directly attacked.

It’s true that 9-11 changed how safe many Americans felt as a nation, especially younger generations who had had never felt the effects of terrorism. Many felt they were not safe or that they could be attacked just for being Americans. I would say this is the exact same feeling that LGBT people, or any other minority, feel when there is a hate crime. It makes us all take a minute and think, “I could be harassed/attacked/killed for just being who I am.” When someone is attacked solely on the basis of what group they belong to, it sends a ripple effect out and makes everyone else feel they were part of the attack too. Sounds like a terrorist act to me.

Now some say this is apples and oranges, that large scale terror attacks cannot be compared to individual hate crimes. I would say that the effects of these “smaller” crimes are just as chilling as the large scale attacks. I know I personally felt affected and scared after Matthew Shepard was attacked and killed simply for being gay. It could have easily been me. Every time I hear of another crime committed based on sexuality or gender expression, I realize that I could be next just for being who I am. The ripple effect spreads from the one victim to all of us, raising our own internal threat levels.

“Hate crimes seek to intimidate entire groups of Americans,” Senator Gordon Smith has said, speaking in regards to the Matthew Shepard Act, “Hate crimes do more than just harm one victim, they terrorize an entire society. They send an ominous message of hate and intolerance to all Americans and we cannot be complacent or tolerate of such acts of hatred.” So why do many conservative voices, who love drumming the beat of terror, have a problem with hate-crimes legislation? Shouldn’t attacks on an entire group of people be treated with more severity since there are many more victims? Where is their outrage? Why do they not want to ship them off to Gitmo with all the other terrorists?

The inconsistencies in the reactions to terrorism and hate crimes must stop. You can’t support punishing terrorists only if you like the people being affected. Just because these conservative fear-mongers may not like LGBT community doesn’t make the effects of hate crimes any less. Want to really be tough on terrorism? Support fully-inclusive hate crimes legislation. No one deserves to live in fear.

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I don't know, Waymon. I think that they're too separate issues, personally. Blowing up a building is an act of terrorism. Gay bashing is a hate crime. While the chill of hate may spread across the city where a hate crime happens, it just doesn't have the same affect on the entire city. And I guess that's my juncture for separating the two - one affects a group of people in the sub-class, the other affects a city/state/nation.

It's an interesting theory, but I have to agree with Bil: I don't think it's an 'apples & apples' comparison. And while inciting fear may be a motivation behind both a terrorist attack and a hate crime, the scenarios are otherwise quite different, I think.

I am not sure they are that much different in ways that matter. In determining a parallel between terrorism and hate crimes, we need to ask why is blowing up a building bad, and why does the law punish that more harshly than gun violence? Because it is terrorism; it sends a chilling affect on the population. In terrorism, there are more than the physical victims. Terrorism, by definition, victimizes an entire population.

Hate crimes also victimize beyond those who are physically hurt. By killing or injuring a person because they are gay, black, or Jewish, you are terrorizing the rest of that group. You are saying that members of those groups may be next. These members of the victimized group stand in a state of fear. That is exactly what happens with terrorism. We were so effected by 9-11 by how large the attack was, but that was not the main reason. Many more people are killed each year for other reasons (drunk drivers, murders, cancer, etc), but the effect of those deaths do not impact us as much. We were so impacted because of the fear it produced. I am not sure how the fear from 9-11 is different than the fear from a hate crime, other than the size of the group affected.

I actually think the only difference between hate crimes and terrorism is scale. The motivation and results are the same: to terrorize an entire group of people. Like Senator Smith said: “Hate crimes do more than just harm one victim, they terrorize an entire society. They send an ominous message of hate and intolerance to all Americans..."

I’m really not sure how the scenarios are that different. When a group decides to bomb a gay bar, isn’t it both an act of terrorism and a hate crime? Isn’t an act of terrorism really just a hate crime on a larger scale? Along those same lines, when a person is attacked for being part of a minority, it is simply a smaller act of terrorism meant to “punish” or incite fear in that entire group. Is there really a difference in terrorizing a “sub-class” rather than an entire city/state/nation? Or is the underlying assumption that minorities are valued as less than the larger idea of “Americans”?

I simply find it disingenuous when some want to come down tough and swift on terrorists, yet see no need for tougher punishments on hate crimes. In both cases large groups of people are victims. It’s a matter of semantics and valuing one group of people over another.

What would a Friday be without a little controversy and provocative thought...