More Legislation Won't Stop Stupid People From Committing Wretched Acts.
By Jeff Smith
OCTOBER 26, 1998: I CANNOT CITE the precise date when the State of Arizona declared it unlawful to kill homosexuals who offered to buy you a drink at a gay bar, but I'm pretty sure it was even before the state Legislature passed anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation.
Indeed, even in this frontier outpost of the law of fang and claw, murdering homosexuals--or for that matter, Rosicrucians, persons of pigmentation, women, aluminum-siding salesmen and members of the NRA--has been outlawed since the very introduction of the rule of law. It goes clear back to English Common Law, back to Moses and the clay tablets.
Every nation on the planet, even Rhodesia, has subscribed to the philosophy that killing another human being, absent a declaration of war, is an offense against man, god(s) and law. And virtually without exception--actually without exception here in the United States, including Wyoming--the laws against murder make no demurrer based on the popularity of the victim.
This sounds like a pretty good system, and it is--innately just, and blind as to color, math-challenged as to wealth, deaf as to lisp, impartial as to any and all particulars, as a system of laws should be. The weakness of such a system is our weakness as human beings, really: the existence of prejudice--hatred and bigotry, ignorance and fear--on both the personal and the cultural level.
Unfortunately, history, via the study of human behavior, has proven that society cannot erase prejudice by writing laws. The best lick we can hit is to soften it, minimize it through education. Again unfortunately, it keeps coming back, generation after generation, beaten onto the brows of children by ignorant and fearful adults who perceive those who look and act different as threats to position and possession.
It's a damn sad situation to live one's life in fear and hopelessness, imprisoned by the ignorance and potential violence of others, or by the personal terror that at any time you might be randomly picked as the next victim of a hate-crime. It would be lovely to believe that we, as a nation of law, could legislate against hatred and make it stick. It would be nice to think we can and indeed are getting kinder, gentler, more civilized.
But we can't and we aren't. And we're chasing our own hopeless dreams--and the cynical politics of leaders who'd rather get our minds off their troubles--when we respond to such sorry news as came last week from Wyoming, with demands that Congress and various state legislatures pass new laws against crimes of hate.
It is an oversimplification, I know, but just about everything that ought not to be done by people is covered under the Ten Commandments. And then some. I can construct a plausible case for coveting certain neighbors' wives and asses. But honestly, it took Government Man hardly any time at all to legislate against everything that really needed to be outlawed. Since that first, protean legislative session all we've done is spend a lot of time, money and energy electing people to go somewhere and represent our interests by finding new and imaginative ways of defining what, technically, comes under the heading of (thou shalt not...) killing, stealing, coveting, taking names in vain, adulterizing and so forth. By rushing into high dudgeon each and every time some troglodyte violates one of the oldest and most basic proscriptions of human interaction, all we do is complicate our formal rules of engagement, and diminish the elemental power of natural law.
Thou shalt not kill. Hell, even the brute beast recognizes the wrong inherent in wanton, senseless murder. Wolves kill to eat: the rogue who murders on some impulse unrelated to survival, to the behavioral pattern passed along in the genes, is a pariah in the eyes of the pack. Left at peace by the lawyers and the legislators, we know as much of this truth as does the wolf.
The sad fact of the matter of Matthew Shepard, murdered out of hate and fear and doubtless some degree of self-doubt and self-loathing, is that it isn't going to end with him and the two morons who beat him to death and hung him on a fence-post. Human beings aren't perfectible. We probably aren't even very much improveable.
And all this sound and fury being whipped up around the cause of passing new layers of law--bandaids on top of bandages--are nothing more than empty, feel-good nostrums to convince ourselves that we've done something about our behavioral problems. Better we should go amongst them, as the Old Testament missionaries put it, and talk about what's fair and square. If Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney can get away with pistol-whipping a queer, how about Bruce and Bruce take a tire-iron to the temple of any old boy they find wearing Wranglers and Ropers and driving a pickup truck?
Is this any way to run a Wyoming? Or anywhere else we like to call home? Hell no.
Anti-discrimination laws are something of a separate matter. There is a legitimate public purpose to be served in defining unlawful discrimination in such matters as housing and other public accomodation to include sexual orientation, as well as gender, ethnicity, racial distinctions and all such arbitrary standards. This is not what is going on in the case of Matthew Shepard.
Murder is a hate crime, no matter who the victim is, who the killer is, or what the motive and circumstance are. And it's already against the law. We even provide our own variation on the theme of cold-blooded murder: capital punishment, as penalty in exteme cases.
No purpose can be served in establishing separate standards and statutes for murdering gays or blacks or any other class of person who was killed because someone imagined being kissed by him, or seeing his sister kissed. Is that worse than having your life snuffed out because someone wanted your sneakers, or took a check for $5,000 from a greedy spouse?
Hate is bad. Murder is bad. We've got that covered. Let's put our energy into setting better examples for our kids.
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