On Sunday, Oct. 18, Brandon Patrick, a 23-year-old Tulsa man, was beaten and attacked with a knife just after leaving his apartment. According to Patrick, the assailants hurled slurs at his sexual orientation during the assault. Patrick told Tulsa's Fox23, "I could hear the hatred in her voice and the way she was talking to me. I could really tell her hatred toward homosexuals."
The same week, the U.S. Congress finally passed " overwhelmingly, it might be added " the Matthew Shepard Act, which expands existing federal hate crimes legislation. Existing laws protected those assaulted for their race, color, religion or national origin. The new law protects those assaulted because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. President Obama signed the bill into law Oct. 28.
Oklahoma does not have a good record on protecting its citizens against hate crimes. Our law currently includes only the previous categories of federal law, and it considers a first-offense hate crime to be only a misdemeanor. The Legislature has failed to even discuss in committee the six different bills introduced the last two sessions that would improve our laws. Further, our entire congressional delegation voted against the Matthew Shepard Act. And the 2009 platform of the state Republican Party states unequivocally, "We oppose all 'hate crime' "¦ laws." These actions and inactions support the continued violence of bigots and hate groups.
You might recall that two years ago an Oklahoma City man, Steven Domer, was kidnapped and brutally murdered. A self-proclaimed member of the Aryan Brotherhood was charged with his murder. The District Attorney's office claimed that Domer had been targeted because he was gay and that the kidnapping and murder were part of an initiation rite into the white supremacist group. Because of state laws, District Attorney Prater was not able to prosecute the actual crime.
What was the actual crime? A hate crime is not a crime targeted at just one individual, but at an individual as a representative of a group. The person doing the targeting views themselves as representing another group, which they consider to be superior to the group targeted. A hate crime is much like a terrorist act in that it is intended for fear and intimidation. It is meant to keep a category of people in "their place" and under control.
The federal law explicitly uses this reasoning: "A prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim and the family and friends of the victim, but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected."
In other words, Domer and Patrick were not the targets of the crimes " gay people were. Domer's murderer can be prosecuted as such, and the assailants of Patrick can be persecuted for assault. But those weren't their crimes. Their crimes were something else " an attempt to terrorize a segment of the population. The two crimes are not the same and should not be treated the same under the law.
The difference can be clearly seen in a simpler case. Imagine some neighborhood kids graffiti your garage door. That's vandalism. Now, imagine that they graffiti your garage door with a racial slur and you are a racial minority. That's not vandalism.
I hope we are a society that believes it is wrong to terrorize and intimidate groups of people.
Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.