Don’t read this column if you disapprove of my straying from money topics. Just go straight to Chapter 15 of Fire and Ice. (You already have Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14.) Most of us have a great deal to be thankful for — I certainly do. But near the top of the list is not having to work for a guy like Charles Revson.

Now.

You may have heard about the proposed Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Clinton/Gore and most Democrats support it. George Dubya and many Republicans do not. It would extend existing hate crimes legislation to cover serious violent crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation, gender and disability (not just race, religion, and national origin, as now).

Opponents say that all crime is hateful, that all criminals should be punished, and that it’s not fair to single out certain groups for special protection or to punish crimes against those people more severely — let alone to call in the Feds to do it. Local law should apply, and the punishment for a crime should have nothing to do with whether or not it was motivated by hatred against a particular kind of people (e.g., blacks or Jews or gays).

I just want to say two things. First, it’s not true that our system of justice ignores motivation. Dead is dead, but there’s first degree murder, second degree murder, third degree murder, and manslaughter. We already make distinctions based on motivation — as I think we should. What the Hate Crimes legislation aims to do is send a message that pure hate, as a motivation, is one this society particularly detests. In a society as diverse as ours, it’s an especially important message to send. Be a good citizen, pay your taxes, contribute to the common good — and you’re welcome here.

Second, this involves real people. Maybe even, one day, someone you care about. The Human Rights Campaign held a press conference yesterday prior to House hearings, at which two of the participants were Tony Orr and his partner Tim Beaucamp. Two years ago, they were standing at an ATM in Tulsa when three men approached them, called them “faggots,” and beat them. Orr suffered a concussion and received stitches for the many gashes on his head. Beaucamp suffered permanent nerve damage after the orbital bone around his eye was broken. The attackers were sentenced to 40 hours of community service.

“People like us in communities all across this country need some place to turn when justice is not served,” Orr said at the press conference. “We need to be able to appeal to a higher authority when localities and states do not — for whatever reason — fully investigate and prosecute a hate crime. ”

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed by the Senate this month. It is supported by, among others, 22 state attorneys general, the National Sheriff’s Association, President Bush’s former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, the Police Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The President has promised to sign it if passed by Congress. It’s up to the House.

“We were targeted because of who we are, not for any other reason,” says Orr. “They were trying to send a message that ‘our kind’ are not welcome in Tulsa and deserve to be beaten or die. It is time to send a message that what is not welcome are hate crimes.”

Forty hours of community service may not adequately send that message.

Spread the word . . .

 

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