Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hannity lies about hate-crimes bill, claims Dems protect pedophiles but not veterans

-- by Dave

The progression of the nation's first federal hate-crimes law -- the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act -- out of the House and into the Senate, where it will almost certainly pass (barring a GOP filibuster), has the right-wing punditocracy in an uproar.

Especially Sean Hannity -- who's now just flatly lying on the air about the bill, and about hate-crimes laws in general. The distortion and demagoguery is making quite a spectacle.

The right-wing smear-and-lie machine has been getting cranked up to fight this bill from the outset, with notable contributions from the likes of Virginia Foxx. But the champion liar/demagogue is Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who has been throwing up garbage amendments -- including a nonsensical attempt to include veterans under hate-crime provisions. Of course, Hannity reported this attempt as something serious instead of the cheap grandstanding it was.

And the grandstanding continues with subsequent attempts to exclude pedophiles from bias-crime protection. On Fox News last night, both Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity devoted segments to exploring King's proposals to exclude pedophilia as a "protected class."

There's a big problem with this claim: There's nothing in either the federal legislation, or in any state law, that could credibly be construed as offering protection to pedophiles. In fact, the entire construct -- that these laws create "protected classes" -- is false to begin with.

But King's argument appears predicated on the notion that pedophilia might somehow legally qualify as a "sexual orientation" -- which is to say, it rests on the assumption that homosexuality is somehow akin to pedophilia.

Nonetheless, the hamhanded upshot of these cheap ploys is that Sean Hannity could get on the air and say:

HANNITY: Is it safe to say that Democrats were willing to protect pedophiles but not offer the same protection to servicemen and women? Is that an accurate statement?

KING: Sean, it is a matter of congressional record. Absolutely true -- beyond any doubt whatsoever.

Media Matters has the transcript:

HANNITY: Now, during last week's debate on the hate crimes bill, Republicans proposed an amendment that would exempt pedophiles from receiving the protections of that bill that offers victims of hate crimes.

Now, the Democrats voted unanimously against the amendment. Here's what they said.

CLERK OF THE HOUSE: Mr. Scott votes no [...] Ms. Lofgren votes no [...] Mr. Cohen votes no [...] Mr. Johnson votes no [...] Mr. Pierluisi votes no [...] Mr. Gutierrez votes no [...] Mr. Sherman votes no [...] Ms. Baldwin votes no [...] Mr. Weiner votes no [...] Mr. Maffei votes no [...] Mr. Wexler votes no [...] Ms. Waters --

HANNITY: Now, meanwhile, as we first reported on this program last week, one Democratic congresswoman denounced an idea that veterans should receive any sort of protections at all.

And joining me now to discuss what exactly unfolded is Congressman Steve King. He sponsored the amendment that would have excluded pedophiles from this legislation. Congressman, good to see you.

KING: Thanks, Sean. It's good to be with you tonight.

HANNITY: I want to be perfectly clear. So hate -- we have a hate crimes bill, and you're saying, all right, we should exempt pedophiles. Every Democrat says no. But when there is -- the sponsorship of the bill that would also include veterans that are victims of crimes because they're veterans, Democrats -- they wanted them exempt but the pedophiles in. Do I have that right?

KING: You have it right, Sean. They were wrong on both counts, obviously. But you have it absolutely right. And on the top of that, the amendment that I offered to exempt pedophiles from a special protected status was after Tammy Baldwin, one of the lead sponsors on the bill, had argued that the sexual orientation, special protective status in the bill, only covered heterosexuals and homosexuals, so that doesn't include a pedophile. But she opposed the amendment anyway, as did all the Democrats, as you just showed tonight.

HANNITY: All right, Congressman. I got to slow down here, because I don't think I got this right. So the Democrats voted against special protected status to pedophiles in this bill.

KING: Yes.

HANNITY: But when they had a chance to offer special protected status to veterans returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other wars, they said no. Tell me that I -- tell me that that didn't happen in Washington. Tell me that I'm really -- I got this whole thing messed up and backwards.

We've debunked this nonsense numerous times in the past, but let's wash, rinse, and repeat anyway:

[King's] proposal would render the legislation moot and unconstitutional, because it would then be predicated on the idea of creating "protected classes." And, as has been already explained many times, hate-crimes bills aren't about creating "protected categories" -- they are strictly written to encompass the motives of the perpetrator:

Hate-crime statutes are neither written to protect specific classes of persons from assault nor to enhance the charges simply when a person from a "protected class" is the victim of a crime. We don't have laws that create stiffer time if you simply assault a black or a Jew or a gay person. The laws don't even specify races or religions. Such laws would be in clear violation of basic constitutional principles, including the equal-protection clause.

In fact, the actual class status of a victim is almost secondary to the decision whether or to file a hate-crimes charge or not. The primary concern is the motivation of the perpetrator. All of these laws are written to punish people more severely for committing a crime committed with a bias motivation.

Not everyone ever joins an armed service. Veteranhood is a not a universal trait. But the categories of bias motivation -- race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and sexual preference -- are universal human traits:

[Bias crime laws] are intended to protect everyone equally from these kinds of crimes. Everyone, after all, has religious beliefs of one kind or another; we all have a race, a gender, an ethnicity, a sexual orientation. A quick look at the FBI's annual bias-crime statistics bears this out; anti-white bias crimes are the second-largest category of racial crimes, and anti-Christian crimes constitute the second-largest in the religion category. If the laws were written as [Rooney] suggests, they couldn't possibly pass the Constitution's equal-protection muster; yet these laws have.

Finally, bias-crime laws have always been about addressing real, identifiable social pathologies that have a toxic effect on larger society. Bias crimes against veterans -- who for the most part are fairly capable of defending themselves anyway; indeed, it strikes me as insulting to cast them in the role of victims -- are not, as far as anyone can demonstrate, an identifiable problem at this time. However, racially, religiously, ethnically, and sexually motivated bias crimes are indeed very real phenomena.

It is indeed an insult to the victims of those crimes to try to trivialize their suffering with cheap tactics like this. And it's downright obscene to claim that saying so is "anti-military" or "bashing the soldiers."

And of course, Hannity and King rounded out the segment with an exchange that was nothing less than a complete regurgitation of every Zombie Lie about bias-crimes laws known to man -- especially that ole fave, "these are thought crimes":

HANNITY: So I'm trying to understand it. Are we trying, through hate crimes legislation, to get into the thought process behind the crime instead of just punishing the actual crime and the actual act?

KING: Well, Sean, it is a thought. It is the thought crime. And I tried to bring this out in the mark-up before the Judiciary Committee. And I asked the specific question of the sponsors: Is it the perception of the perpetrator, or the perception of the victim?

And I got different answers. But, truthfully, it's both. Now we're trying to, by law, divine what was in head -- in the head of the victimizer, and what's in the head of the victim, who is self-alleged with their particular proclivity and would be protected by law given the circumstances of the legislation that passed off the floor of the House of Representatives.

So I think this is an area of law that we should stay completely away from. I think it brings about this special protected status. And I think that when you set up people that are -- that are victims, then you're dividing people. And so this is an agenda --

HANNITY: All right.

KING: -- of the homosexual activists. And they take this all the way through to imposing same-sex marriage on America.

That's right -- it's all part of the eeeevil homosexual plot. That's why Latino advocates -- the people who are dealing with the hate crimes that have been stirred up by the irresponsible fearmongering of people like Steve King -- and African American groups are all strongly behind this bill too.

Along with the ACLU, which also strongly supports this bill. They all want to create "thought crimes." Right.

Mushy-headed libertarians and liberals and particularly conservatives who see bias-crime laws as creating "thought crimes" -- a concern for which, in over two decades of having these laws on the books, there is scant evidence -- seem to be wringing their hands over a rather abstract notion of freedom, while losing sight of the hard reality that bias-crime laws are about protecting the freedoms of millions of Americans.

Maybe that's because these critics see the only threat to our freedoms as emanating from government. But over the history of our country, there have been notable examples in which people's freedoms were taken away by the acts of their fellow citizens -- the "lynching era" of 1880-1930 being the most prominent. Today's bias-crime laws are the direct descendants of the anti-lynching laws that were never passed at the height of this era, based largely on arguments similar to those raised against bias-crime laws -- a failure for which the Senate recently apologized.

The legacy of lynching remains with us today in the form of hate crimes -- whose purpose, once again, is to oppress and eliminate targeted minorities. Hate crimes have the fully intended effect of driving away and deterring the presence of any kind of hated minority -- racial, religious, or sexual. They are essentially acts of terrorism directed at entire communities of people, and they are message crimes: "Keep out." And they damage both the fabric of our communities and the democratic underpinnings of a free society. Most of all, they create what Yale's Donald Green calls "a massive dead-weight loss of freedom" for all Americans, particularly minorities.

Bias-crime laws aren't merely about "affirming the equality of all people": they're about preserving very real, basic freedoms -- freedom of association, freedom of travel, the freedom to live where we choose, and most of all the freedom from fear -- for every American. The only "freedom" upon which they impinge is that of violent yahoos to threaten and intimidate and take away the freedom of others.

Is that the kind of freedom Sean Hannity and Steve King wish to protect? It seems so. They'll even lie through their teeth about it.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Does hate-crime bill create double jeopardy? Latest right-wing meme as hollow as the rest

[H/t Heather]

-- by Dave

Most of the debate from Republicans regarding the hate-crimes bill that just passed the House -- titled the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 -- has been of the immensely silly variety that's easily exposed as the thinly built strawmen they are.

Jon Stewart had some fun last night with some of the nonsense we heard in the House as the bill progressed through that chamber. My favorite is Rep. Steve King's claim that the only reason gays get assaulted is that they flaunt their sexuality, and if they'd stop doing that, this would just go away. Reality: Gay-bashing bias crimes are often inflicted on straight people mistaken for being gay. These in fact are nonetheless bias crimes intended to terrorize a target community of gays generally, and should be (and often are) prosecuted as such.

However, David Fredosso at National Review has raised something of a fresh objection, to wit, that the new federal law’s provisions raise the specter of double jeopardy:

People usually think of hate-crimes bills as sentence-enhancers – and indeed, many state hate-crime laws take that format. The Shepard bill does not. In addition to providing financial help for local prosecutors for hate crimes, it creates a new federal charge, with a ten-year prison sentence, that can be used against those who commit “crimes of violence” with firearms or explosives, or which cause serious bodily harm, motivated by hatred toward certain groups.

Among other things, the bill permits the U.S. Attorney General to initiate federal hate-crime prosecution in cases where “the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence.”

If someone is acquitted of an alleged hate crime at the state level, this bill allows federal prosecutors to haul him into federal court for the same alleged act, based only on evidence that “hate” motivated the crime that the jury says the defendant didn't commit. This makes use of a loophole in the constitutional protection from double jeopardy.

This struck me immediately as specious -– my understanding of these things, such as it is, is that the federal charges would have to undergo a strict review from the Justice Department regarding double jeopardy, states rights, and free-speech issues before proceeding. That's contained within the language of the bill:

‘(b) Certification Requirement- No prosecution of any offense described in this subsection may be undertaken by the United States, except under the certification in writing of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, or any Assistant Attorney General specially designated by the Attorney General that--

‘(1) such certifying individual has reasonable cause to believe that the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person was a motivating factor underlying the alleged conduct of the defendant; and

‘(2) such certifying individual has consulted with State or local law enforcement officials regarding the prosecution and determined that--

‘(A) the State does not have jurisdiction or does not intend to exercise jurisdiction;

‘(B) the State has requested that the Federal Government assume jurisdiction;

‘(C) the State does not object to the Federal Government assuming jurisdiction; or

‘(D) the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence.

The problem of dual prosecutions that Fredosso raises, in fact, has been around since the days when Al Capone was able to buy off local judges in Chicago, and in my understand was dealt with long ago. So immediately I suspected there was a problem with his analysis.

However, not being an actual lawyer, I thought I would ask one. So I went straight to the top, to the most authoritative voice on this issue I know: Frederick Lawrence, Dean of the George Washington University Law School and one of the nation's foremost authorities on bias-crime laws.

Here's his response:


Good to hear from you. Two things --

First, the procedural protections you outline along with internal DOJ policy on dual prosecutions provides much protection against abuse here.

Second, there is no constitutional problem here. There is something called the "dual sovereignty doctrine" which permits state and federal prosecutions for the same crime without any issue of double jeopardy as a constitutional matter. This is true generally -- narcotics cases, organized crime cases, official corruption cases, etc. It is precisely to avoid the potential abuse of this constitutional permission that DOJ has its own strict guidelines, limiting their actual use of this authority. Simply put, this is an issue, but not a new issue, and not a hate crimes or a civil rights issue. It is a general criminal law issue under our federal system of government and it is one that has been satisfactorily addressed for decades in practice and policy.

I hope that this useful. Let me know if I can help further.

Best regards,

Fred Lawrence

Hopefully, the "double jeopardy" objection has now being laid to rest, too.

On the other hand, considering the extended half-life enjoyed by the rest of the right-wing Zombie Lies about hate crimes, I'm not holding my breath.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Republican Agonistes: GOP wrestles with the toxic embrace of its wingnut base

-- by Dave

Republicans were out this weekend in force, holding town-hall meetings designed to "reconnect" with constituents -- and demonstrating in the process that they remain as clueless as ever.

As it happens, there was also an interesting Rasmussen poll showing that those constituents basically despise them:

Just 21% of GOP voters believe Republicans in Congress have done a good job representing their own party’s values, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Sixty-nine percent (69%) say congressional Republicans have lost touch with GOP voters throughout the nation. These findings are virtually unchanged from a survey just after Election Day.

Among all voters, 73% say Republicans in Congress have lost touch with the GOP base.

Seventy-two percent (72%) of Republicans say it is more important for the GOP to stand for what it believes in than for the party to work with President Obama. Twenty-two percent (22%) want their party to work with the President more.

In other words, the Republican base, by a large margin, is unhappy with their party's political leadership for not being right-wing enough. And that happens to comport with what their real leadership, aka the Right-Wing Punditocracy, has been saying.

Unfortunately for Republicans, the electorate at large has a distinctly different outlook. They strongly want Republicans to cooperate with President Obama, and strongly believe they are not making a good-faith effort to do so, either. Republicans want to fight, but this not a fight Republicans are winning:

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll shows that the president has a 63 percent favorability rating. But 31 percent of Americans approve of how congressional Republicans have conducted themselves, a dropoff of 13 percentage points from February when the same question was asked.

Here's the standard GOP analysis of the problem:
Shortly after the November elections, Republicans en masse began to acknowledge that the party had lost its way on the issue of fiscal discipline during the Bush administration. Their vote against the stimulus bill was the first real test for Republicans to exercise their frustration with what they describe as excessive federal spending. And they're shaping a message around this theme.

"We are united," said Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "The debt of this country is a national crisis and a national security issue."

The problem with this is that Republicans seem to believe that it was simply George W. Bush's profligate ways with the budget that caused the economic disaster we currently are confronting. And that's part of the picture, to be sure. But only a small part.

The cold reality is that, as we explained after the election, the economic turmoil was created by a broad swath of Bush policies that, in every respect, were clear products of conservative fiscal and governmental philosophy:

The swirling global economic crisis produced by Republican rule is only the most prominent debacle produced by eight years of conservative philosophy being put into action. Conservatives never met a deregulation scheme they didn't like -- and it was that very mania for breaking down well-established institutional barriers, particularly in the financial sector, that led to the housing bubble and the collapse on Wall Street. Certainly, Democrats played along, often eagerly -- but they were being conservative when they did.

No doubt the solutions to the economic crisis will entail re-regulating the financial sector and imposing strict government oversight. And when they do, no doubt conservatives will accuse Democrats of indulging "socialism". But it is to laugh: the right has earned all the credibility of Joe the Plumber on such matters.

Especially when you consider all the other fruits of conservative governance:

  • Foreign-policy debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • A government that invades nations under false pretenses.

  • A nation less secure and at greater risk of terrorist attacks than ever.

  • A sinking economy.

  • An expanding gap between rich and poor.

  • Utter inaction on global warming.

  • $5-a-gallon gasoline.

  • An unresolved immigration problem.

  • An incapacity to deal with natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

  • A debacle in public-school education testing and funding.

  • Declining food and consumer-product safety standards.

  • A government that spies on its own citizens.

  • A government that tortures prisoners held in their detention facilities.

These messes weren't the result of George W. Bush being too liberal and straying too far from the movement's party line. To the contrary -- they're the direct result of him toeing that line to the millimeter. They are all the direct product of the conservative philosophy of governance.

So it's not surprising that the public now believes more in liberal solutions than conservative ones:

The survey found the public holds greater confidence in Democrats than in Republicans in handling most of the issues that are involved in Obama's legislative agenda.

Democrats were favored by a margin of 61 percent to 29 percent on education; 59 percent to 30 percent on health care and 59 percent to 31 percent on energy. Congress is expected to consider major legislation later this year in all three areas.

Democats were also viewed with more confidence in handling taxes, long a Republican strong suit. The only issue among nine in the survey where the two parties were rated as even was in the war on terror.

Conservatives had their shot and blew it -- and it goes well beyond George W. Bush's budget failures.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A jury's hate-crime verdict in rural Pennsylvania reinforces the racial divide

-- by Dave

You don't have to have been from rural Pennsylvania to have been able to predict the outcome of this case:

Some satisfied, others outraged with verdict for immigrant's death

Friends and relatives of two teens accused in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant struggled to contain their relief as not-guilty verdicts were announced on the most serious charges against the former high school football stars Friday.

Gasps filled the courtroom and some had to be restrained by sheriff's deputies as they tried to rush the defense table after Derrick Donchak, 19, and Brandon Piekarsky, 17, were acquitted of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and ethnic intimidation for the death of Luis Ramirez.

Piekarsky was also found not guilty of third-degree murder for the death of Ramirez, who died of blunt force injuries after an encounter with the teens last summer.

As Avery Friedman argues persuasively in the video from CNN yesterday, this was a pretty clear-cut case of jury nullification: the weight of evidence against the accused was so powerful that it's clear the all-white jury -- like similar juries in the South during the Civil Rights struggle -- was not going to convict two young white men of murdering a Mexican. Even if, as Friedman says, "the only reason he is dead is because he was Mexican."

Prosecutors alleged that the teens baited the Ramirez into a fight with racial epithets, provoking an exchange of punches and kicks that ended with Ramirez convulsing in the street, foaming from the mouth. He died two days later in a hospital.

Piekarsky was accused of delivering a fatal kick to Ramirez's head after he was knocked to the ground.

As they poured out of courthouse, the teens' supporters shouted "I was right from the start" and "I'm glad the jury listened" at cameras that caught the late-night verdict.

But Gladys Limon, a spokeswoman for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the jury had sent a troubling message.

"The jurors here [are] sending the message that you can brutally beat a person, without regard to their life, and get away with it, continue with your life uninterrupted," she said.

Considering some of the details of the killing, it's also inordinately clear this was a classic bias crime, with the incident instigated by racially charged taunts that made clear the victim was selected because of racial animus:

"Isn't it a little late for you guys to be out?" the boys said, according to court documents. "Get your Mexican boyfriend out of here."

... Burke recalled hearing one final, ominous threat as the teens ran. "They yelled, 'You effin bitch, tell your effin Mexican friends get the eff out of Shenandoah or you're gonna be laying effin next to him,' " she said.

That is, of course, the entire purpose of bias crimes: To hold the victim up as an example: "You're next." The purpose is to terrorize the target community, to drive them out, eliminate them.

My second book, Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America, was a study of hate crimes that focused on a single case that occurred in rural Washington state in the summer of 2000, but used it to springboard to an exploration of the rural dimensions of the problem in some depth.

Specifically, it examines why rural areas are more vulnerable to bias crimes than urban or suburban regions. And a lot of it has to do with entrenched attitudes about social roles in those areas, combined with a slowness to recognize the need to enforce bias-crimes laws that's acute in rural America.

An excerpt:

Towns like Ocean Shores, whose economic health is directly tied to the sense of welcome and well-being enjoyed by its visitors—including minorities from urban centers—can be badly harmed by a hate crime. Yet, perceptions notwithstanding, is Grays Harbor genuinely a racist place?

Probably not—at least, no more so than most other rural communities whose population historically have been homogenously white. Like nearly any small town in the Northwest—or any rural town in America, for that matter—the vast majority of the residents of Ocean Shores or Aberdeen are hard-working and well-meaning people who, beyond harboring the usual garden-variety racial stereotypes, are not racist or white supremacist in any serious way. They are usually disgusted by ideological racists and want nothing to do with them. And they are bewildered at suggestions they might be a haven for bigotry.

"Our police department received I don't know how many calls wanting to know if it was safe in Ocean Shores, is it a racist town?" says Carl Payne, who wound up taking the reins of the Ocean Shores Coalition, the group devoted to dealing with the town's unwanted new image. "They [police] didn't know it was a racist town."

"We aren't," insists Joan Payne, his wife, and executive director of the city's Chamber of Commerce. "We aren't a racist community. We have young people who were looking for trouble. And . . . it found them."

But like most rural communities, the evidence of racist activity is not completely absent, at least in Grays Harbor County and the surrounding area. There is at least one proclaimed skinhead in Aberdeen who proselytizes among the local disaffected teens, though to little effect. A year before the July Fourth incident in Ocean Shores, at a retreat outside the town of Frances—about thirty miles south—a major Christian Identity gathering of about one hundred people was quietly held, with only local law enforcement aware of its presence. And in just the month before Minh Hong's trial, the nearby town of Elma was plastered with neo-Nazi fliers promising a parade down Main Street on New Year’s Day. ...

Idiosyncratic events like that are one thing. However, it is hard not to find a broader undertow of bigotry that usually lingers in the quiet places of rural communities like Grays Harbor. The few minorities who live there will tell you, privately, that racism in the town can be “bad,” and even non-minorities see the signs. At times, the air in the local coffee shop wafts with smoke and complaints about “those damned Koreans” or “the stinking Mexicans” who have become the area’s most visible minorities. Or a well-liked neighbor who’s active in civic-minded organizations will, given the right turn in the conversation, suddenly spew a string of racist obscenities that surprise even his friends.

The response to these episodes is universal: simple silence. After all, there is a mantra common to all rural communities: “This is a nice town.” People are nice to each other. If someone wants to be a racist, well, most people won’t encourage them, but they won’t speak out against it, either. They might even laugh at their nigger jokes just to go along.

Grays Harbor County is confronting a change that many other rural districts in America face: an influx of new, nonwhite faces. The bulk of these are Latino, who in the 1990 Census numbered only 1,173, or only 1.8 percent of the population, but by 2000 had grown to represent 4.8 percent of the population with 3,258 residents. (The county, which includes the Quinault Indian Reservation, has for years had a steady population of about 5 percent Native Americans.) More Asians, too, are moving in (they now constitute 1.2 percent of the population, up slightly from 2000), many of them taking over high-profile businesses like restaurants and convenience stores.

This demographic change is happening broadly across rural America, particularly in the Midwest. As a report from the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service points out:

Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the American population, and this growth is especially striking in rural America. The 2000 census shows that Hispanics accounted for only 5.5 percent of the Nation's nonmetro population, but 25 percent of nonmetro population growth during the 1990s. Many counties throughout the Midwest and Great Plains would have lost population without recent Hispanic population growth. Among nonmetro counties with high Hispanic population growth in the 1990s, the Hispanic growth rate exceeded 150 percent, compared with an average growth rate of 14 percent for non-Hispanics. Moreover, Hispanics are no longer concentrated in Texas, California, and other Southwestern States—today nearly half of all nonmetro Hispanics live outside the Southwest.

These kinds of demographic shifts, as it happens, often become the primary breeding grounds for hate crimes—even in decidedly non-rural settings. A study published by Donald Green in 1998 focused on New York City, and it found that demographic change in 140 community districts of the city between 1980 and 1990 predicted the incidence of hate crimes. The balance of whites and whatever the target group happened to be in a given community district was an important factor, but the rate at which that balance changed was perhaps even more significant. The most common statistical recipe was an area that was almost purely white in the past which experiences the sudden and noticeable immigration of some other group.

In the case of New York, what occurred was a rapid inmigration of three groups: Asians, Latinos and blacks, though in the latter case the migration was often a response to the other groups' arrival; blacks were in some ways moved around, or their neighborhood boundaries changed. A number of previously white areas—Bensonhurst being the classic case, or Howard Beach—experienced a rapid inmigration of various nonwhite groups. What was particularly revealing about the hate-crime pattern was that the crimes reflected the targets who were actually moving in—that is, they revealed that this was not a kind of generalized hatred. Where Asians moved in, the researchers found a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes, and likewise with Latinos or blacks. Bias crime has more of a kind of reality-based component, at least in the aggregate, than is implicated by those psychological theories that suggest that there only exists a generalized sense of intolerance on the part of those who practice extreme forms of bigotry.

In a later study, Green found this trend replicated itself elsewhere—namely, in Germany after the fall of the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s. In that case, there was rapid inmigration of immigrants into formerly homogeneous eastern Germany, which replicated the conditions in New York as the perfect recipe for bias crime. And indeed, there was a huge surge in hate crimes, which only slowed when the flow of immigrants was halted in the summer of 1993.

"Thinking about the kind of spatial and temporal dimensions of hate crime is a start in the right direction," says Green. "What it helps to think about is the difference between the static and the dynamic dimensions of this problem. People talk about the problem of hate crime being hate—of course, it is a problem, but hate isn't necessarily rising or falling in the society as a whole. What's changing is your proximity to people that you find onerous. And also your ability to organize or to take action against them.

"There are two hypotheses about why it is that hate crimes subside when demographic change runs its course. One hypothesis is that the haters either accept the fact changes occur to them or they move away. Another hypothesis is that nobody really changes their attitude, it's just that the capacity to organize against some outsider—meeting at the back fence and conspiring against somebody—no longer becomes possible when one of your back-fence neighbors is now no longer part of the old nostalgic group."

Green says that both suburbs and rural areas are the next frontiers for hate crimes, partly because the demographic change is beginning to hit there now, "and they will lack the political will to deal with it."

... Most significantly, this phenomenon in fact reflects the perceptions many minorities have of small, rural towns: that they are not safe for people of color or for gays. That if trouble were to erupt, there would be no one to help them, and law enforcement officers would be unsympathetic. That if someone were to commit a hate crime against them, there is a not unreasonable likelihood the perpetrator would get away with it.

The fear and suspicion with which rural denizens regard cities and their dwellers is a well-established American archetype. What is often less observed, but is equally true, is the sheer dread that rural America raises in the minds of those minorities whose populations are largely centered in urban areas. When they leave their familiar surroundings for the so-called heartland—where some 83 percent of the population nationally is white—it is often with real fear about what might befall them.

It is a mistrust bred partly of myth and partly of reality. Its consequences, whatever its cause, are profound on a broad scale, because its chief effect is to widen the already formidable cultural gap between white America and the rest of us.

This case certainly underscores the need for a federal bias-crime law. Now that it's passed the House, it's time to get the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed in the Senate and sent to President Obama's desk.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Why Virginia Foxx's non-apology for smearing Matthew Shepard isn't enough

-- by Dave

First Rep. Virginia Foxx called Matthew Shepard's murder a 'hoax'. Then, she turned around and issued a non-apology apology:

I am especially sorry if his grieving family was offended by my statement. I was referring to a 2004 ABC News 20/20 report on Mr. Shepard's death. ABC's 20/20 report questioned the motivation of those responsible for his death. Referencing this media account may have been a mistake, but it was a mistake based on what I believed were reliable accounts.

But it wasn't a reliable account -- a fact that is obviously not well enough known, but still isn't any kind of excuse for uttering that kind of smear. And that's the problem. She spread a lie, a harmful, ugly lie, about Matt Shepard on the floor of the Congress, and she has never made plain to the public that it was a lie.

So you can't really blame Judy Shepard, Matthew's mother, for declining to accept: "She's apologizing for semantics."

Yesterday she tried again, and failed just as miserably to actually own up to the problem:

“In the heat of trying to handle the rule on the floor, anybody can use a bad choice of words. Saying that the event was a hoax was a poor choice of words,” Foxx said. “I’ve apologized for that. I never meant in any way to harm the family or offend the family or anybody else for that matter.”

“The term ‘hoax’ was a poor choice of words used in the discussion of the hate-crimes bill,” Foxx said in a statement. “Mr. Shepard’s death was nothing less than a tragedy, and those responsible for his death certainly deserved the punishment they received.”

As David Badash at the New Civil Rights Movement acutely observes:

Foxx’s newest “apology” demonstrates her lack of understanding of the basic issue confronting her: She lied about why Matthew Shepard was killed, and maligned the memory of a 21 year-old college student who, to the world, has become the face of a hate crime victim.

... One non-apology is bad, two demonstrates not only a lack of remorse or decency, but a total lack of understanding of the important and sensitive issues that confront our country.

You see, that ABC News report, by Elizabeth Vargas, was debunked at the time as a journalistic atrocity:

[T]he entire thrust of ABC's "revelations" -- that it was all a drug binge, not a hate crime -- reveals how little the reporters who worked on this understand not just bias crimes but criminal law generally. One factor, such as drug use, does not cancel out another, such as a bias motive. They often in fact appear together and work in conjunction.

There's an even more significant problem with the 20/20 report, however: It is signficantly factually flawed.

The flaw is not so much in what it reports, but what it intentionally omits.

...[T]he 20/20 report substantially omits evidence that was produced at the time establishing McKinney's bias motivation. And indeed, McKinney not only did not deny the existence of this bias, he positively embraced it at trial by attempting a "gay panic" defense.

Incidentally, Fritzen was not the lead investigator in the case. That honor went to a fellow named Rob DeBree. And DeBree has significantly repudiated the "crystal meth" theory.

Here's what he told Beth Loffreda, author of Losing Matt Shepard: Life and Politics in the Aftermath of an Anti-Gay Murder, regarding the attempt by McKinney's defense team to paint him as being under the influence of crystal meth:

Rob DeBree too was unimpressed by the argument -- he told me quite forcefully that the murder didn't look like any meth crime he knew.

In his confession to DeBree, McKinney had denied using meth the day of the murder, and while McKinney had been arrested too late for the police to confirm this through blood testing, DeBree felt certain that for once he had told the truth. Obviously it's unsurprising that the lead investigator would disagree with the defense, but DeBree had some compelling reasons on his side. "There's no way" it was a meth crime, DeBree argued, still passionate about the issue when I met him nearly six months after the trial had ended. No evidence of recent drug use was "found in the search of their residences. There was no evidence in the truck. From everything we were able to investigate, the last time they would have done meth would have been up to two to three weeks previous to that night. What the defense attempted to do was a bluff." ...

There are other serious problems with the report. It omits the fact that McKinney has now changed his story at least three times, and probably more, raising serious doubts about his credibility anyway. It also omits the fact that other detectives in the case testified at trial that the victim was selected for violence, and was beaten especially severely, because he was gay. Their testimony was based on their actual conversations with McKinney and Henderson.

And the piece's later attempts to defend McKinney by tainting Shepard's reputation (claiming he also was a crystal-meth user) should be beneath even the lowliest cops-and-courts reporter, let alone a national news organization. Even if true, whatever Shepard's habits, he did not deserve to die for them.

Nonetheless, as Foxx's remarks suggest -- and as posts from the right-wing blogosphere amply demonstrate -- the belief that the 20/20 report was anything remotely accurate or even a worthwhile piece of journalism has lingered as conventional wisdom on the right. As I recently noted, even Andrew Sullivan and Andrew Breitbart have been known to cough that hairball up in our laps too.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.