Friday, February 7, 2003

Anti-hate laws

Some need to be told the obvious


Let me tell you why Cincinnati needs a stronger hate-crime law.

It's the same reason Ohio needs to strengthen its hate crime statues to include gays, and why our country needs clearer, more-inclusive, more painfully obvious anti-hate laws.

There are people out there who need things spelled out for them.

Some people just don't get subtleties, such as that it's wrong to break the law, or to harm or discriminate against someone just because they are who they are.

We all know people like this, people who'll believe what their ignorance tells them. People deluded about their own superiority, convinced that certain classes of humanity are beneath them.

Legal asterisks

These people assume laws are written for them with imaginary asterisks, exempting them from punishment if they bash gays, blacks, women, Middle Easterners or whoever.

There are enough of these people around to require special laws on the book, if only to protect these geniuses from themselves.

After all, it was these kinds of people who two years ago pulled a truck driver from his truck and assaulted him, just because he was white, they were black and Cincinnati was ablaze in racial unrest. Some of them were charged and convicted.

It was these kinds of people who last year took a baseball bat to the head of a Northside man because he was black and they were white and wanting trouble. They, too, were convicted.

And it was someone like them who shot and killed Gregory Beauchamp in Over-the-Rhine on New Year's Eve because he was gay and, presumably, they were not. That shooter has not been arrested.

In the past two years Hamilton County has charged at least 16 people with violating Ohio's ethnic intimidation law. But there were other hate incidents, prosecutors say, that were part of crimes with more serious punishments and so didn't receive a hate designation.

Nevertheless, the FBI says that hate crimes are on the rise nationwide against certain groups, including gays.

What do we do about the violently ignorant?

Spell it out

We let them know in plain words the penalties involved if they act on their prejudices.

Ohio and federal hate-crime laws are too foggy when it comes to crimes against homosexuals, especially. Neither specifies sexual status among hate crime designations.

That's why in Ohio, a crime against a black person gets bumped up a level to merit tougher punishment if racial intimidation is involved, but the same thing doesn't happen in crimes involving intimidation of a gay person.

Nationally, a bill in Congress called the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act could extend hate-crime designations to sexual orientation, as well as gender and disability. The act also would provide more federal support to local police to investigate such crimes.

Are these crime designations necessary, when it's already a crime to kill, assault, menace or stalk people?

You bet.

There are people out there with a moral lapse, a lack of human empathy, as well as common sense.

If someone doesn't tell them that it's not all right to drag someone behind their truck or to tie someone to a fence to die of exposure, then these people won't get the message.

Anti-hate laws aren't meant for the reasonably minded, people like you and me who generally let people live their lives regardless of how different they may be.

Anti-hate laws are for the people who have trouble letting others just live.

E-mail or phone 768-8395

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