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Hate Crimes Essay, Research Paper

Hate Crime Laws are the Result of the Gay Panic Defense

Editorial by Rich B. Kim

From the Houston Chronicle, October 14, 1998:

The passage of hate crime laws would be the wrong way to react to the

brutal murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepherd. All

victims are equally deserving of protection against violence, and the

subjective nature of determining which views count as hateful would lead

government into drawing distinctions between “approved” and “suspect”

systems of thought

Matthew Shepherd was twenty-one years old when he was tied to a fence on a little-traveled road in Wyoming, and beaten brutally by the butt of a gun. Surprisingly enough, he was found hours later after the attack, barely holding onto life. It was only days after he was rushed to the hospital that he died while on life support.

A student of the University of Wyoming, Matthew Shepherd was smart, ambitious, talented, and openly gay. The convicted murderers, Russell Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, were proven guilty after months of trials. Originally being sentenced the death penalty, their punishments were stripped down to two life-long prison terms after Shepherd s mother convinced the jury to show mercy for one who did not that night (my son was killed) and saved them from the death penalty.


After Ms. Shepherds personal request, the topic stirred a national debate as to whether or not hate-crime offences that are similar should receive as strict or a more strict punishment, according to a new law that would be placed. Even though one would assume that this would benefit our society to end racism and hate-crimes like Matthew Shepherd s death, activists say that these laws would be seen as unconstitutional because it would say that crimes against certain persons would be worse than crimes against others.

The majority of the people who oppose the hate-crime laws are not, in fact, homophobic; but they are people who simply believe that a crime is a crime. The beating death of Matthew Shepherd was a wrongful act for which his killers should be executed in the event of conviction – not because of Shepherd s homosexuality – but because he was the victim of the ultimate crime: murder. In a speech at the University of Texas last year, Gene Cisewski spoke about Hate Crime Laws:

“We should be anti-violence, period. Any act of violence has to be punished swiftly and severely and it shouldn’t matter who the victim is. The initiation of force is wrong and it doesn’t matter why – the mere fact you had a motive is enough.”

While most agree that hate-crime laws deem unnecessary, how can we vote against hate-crime laws, but then allow the gay panic defense to be used by defendants? Is this not a double standard?

Because of the way our society is constructed today, a man can be charged for manslaughter rather than murder in the first degree if a homosexual flirts or makes an


advance towards him. The “gay panic” defense, which has had mixed success in other cases, is built around the theory that a person with potential homosexual tendencies will react outrageously when approached by a homosexual. However, in this case of the State of Wyoming vs. Russell Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, the Judge disallowed the defendants to use this as a part of their testimony. Even so, there was recorded evidence that McKinney attempted to use the gay panic tactic as a way to save his own life – even if he had to lie about past homosexual experiences and influences.

Even though many believe that the hate-crime laws should not exist, one has to realize that when there are escape routes , such as the gay panic defense for committed crimes, it is hard to agree with those in opposition of the hate-crime law. One has to think of an analogy to the gay panic tactic. For example, if there was a male panic defense, this would allow a woman to be charged for manslaughter rather than first degree murder if she viciously murdered a man whose only intent was to buy her a drink from a bar. This simply allows a safe getaway for defendants because no hate-crime laws are installed.

In order to install hate-crime laws, the conditions need to be applied in a constitutional manner and must be content-neutral. Defendants may raise the question as to what kind of hate is justifiable and what kind of hate is not. However, hate-crime prosecutions would be used to deliver certain belief systems which would make the crime unthinkable and would cause a jury member to say, The defendant was not in proper use of the law . In addition to this, the gay-panic defense would have to be eliminated because under the hate-crime law, it would deem unnecessary.


Under our system of justice, yes, I agree that everyone is equal before the law. Those accused of crimes are entitled to certain constitutional protection, as well as the victims of a crime. Hateful thoughts may be disagreeable, but they are not crimes in

themselves. The crimes that result from hateful thought -whether it be vandalism, assault or murder – are already punishable by existing statutes. However, we cannot argue against hate-crime laws when the gay panic defense is used in court; and vice versa.

No, being gay did not make Matthew Shepherd s death any more deplorable. Nor should it be a reason to punish a criminal more severely than in other simple cases or murder. Like any other young murder victim, Matthew has family and friends who miss him, and that is the real tragedy behind his senseless killing. However, if Aaron James McKinney s gay panic defense had succeeded, he would have been set free because no hate-crime laws were installed.

There cannot be this double standard in the law. Hate-crime laws are not greatly in effect because they protect certain groups of minorities over others, while the gay panic defense protects those of us who may have homosexual influences and commit crimes against gays. If new laws cannot equally protect all groups rather than some groups, then existing laws that protect smaller minority groups must be eliminated also. The American Way has once again been patted on the back for displaying a triumph in making everything right for its people and deciding against hate-crime laws, rather than realizing the selfishness and selflessness that underlies the whole judicial system in its existing state.

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