The murder of Matthew Shephard was a brutal crime that shocked us all. This was a man just reaching the prime of his life and then violently struck down because of something most of us believe was beyond his control: his sexuality.
This makes most of us pretty angry.
Our natural reaction is to try to find some way to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again. This zeal, however, can be very dangerous. In our righteousness, we must be careful that we do not do something that we shall regret later.
This is the nature of newly proposed hate-crime legislation and this is why we should be wary of passing it.
Hate-crime legislation are laws that increase the penalties for committing crimes against people on the basis of their race, gender, creed, religion or sexuality. They punish people based on their motives.
They are directly related to the reasons why someone commits a crime. In essence, they punish people for the way they think.
We may not like it, but there are people in this country, probably even in the Williams community, who are bigots. They may hate us for whatever reason, without ever getting to know us. But, that is their prerogative. It is not our place to tell people what they can and cannot think. Our law punishes people for actions, not for beliefs.
Imagine if we did pass laws punishing people for the way they think. Do any us actually believe that these bigots would change what they believe? Would these two men, and I use the term loosely, actually have acted differently?
We cannot pass laws that change what people believe. If we actually want this hate to go away, then perhaps we should be educating instead of punishing.
You can liken this situation to that of a child and a parent. The child does something wrong and gets a spanking. The child continues to do the same thing. Do we just spank him harder? The desire to pass these laws is understandable and perhaps even justifiable. But, in the end it is still wrong. These laws are not being passed to protect minorities.
We know they can’t. These laws are not being passed to change people’s beliefs. We know they don’t. And, these laws are not being passed to deter those who would do violence to minorities. We know they won’t. These laws are being passed because we as a society are ashamed. Matthew Shephard is dead and we think that we shouldn’t have let this happen. These laws though are the easy way out.
We feel good about having done something and it really takes no commitment on our part.
But it’s all for show. If we really want to do the right thing to prevent things like what happened to Matthew Shephard from ever happening again, it is going to take a bit more than just a harder spanking.