Hate Crimes Matthew Shepard Act

To answer the question of what constitutes a hate crime lets first look at two different events that have happened recently.

Case number one: three white Duke Lacrosse players were accused in March 2006 of beating, kicking, choking, and gang-raping an African-American stripper, while pelting her with racial epithets, during a team party. The national media went into a feeding frenzy speculating as to whether they should be accused of a hate crime and had them convicted of this ‘alleged’ crime before any of the facts were known. Most of it was due to the original prosecutor Mike Nifong getting in front of every camera and reporter he could find to tell this story to.Eventually these three young men were found completely innocent and all charges against them have been dropped.

Case number 2: University of Tennessee student Channon Christian, 21, and her 23-year-old boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, who were last seen by friends Jan. 6 in Knoxville as they left for a dinner date. Newsom’s burned body was found the next day near a railroad track. Christian was found the day after that, stuffed in a trash can. Both had been raped repeatedly. Five people four black men and one black woman have been arrested for the crimes and await trial. The 46-count indictment says Christian and Newsom were accosted in what began as a carjacking, then taken to an apartment, bound and raped in a variety of ways. One of the suspects told police that at some point one of the attackers poured household cleaner in Christian’s mouth. This is the confirmed reporting of the crime, although there are reports that both Christan and Newsom were mutilated before being killed.

The purported attackers in case one were white attacking an African American woman, the attackers in case number two were African Americans attacking whites, but what makes these two crimes so very different that in case number one a whole community went up in arms to convict these boys who were innocent.

Where is the public out cry for these young African Americans to be tried under hate crime legislation?

I am fairly confident if Christan and Newsom were black and their attackers white there would be an uproar from the media and community leaders that would have dwarfed the one created by the Duke Lacrosse players.

So what exactly constitutes a hate crime?

According to the 110th congress of the United State of America a hate crime is defined as:
(1)the term `crime of violence’ has the meaning given that term in section 16, title 18, United States Code which states: (a) an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or
(b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.
(2) the term `hate crime’ has the meaning given such term in section 280003(a) of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (28 U.S.C. 994 note) which states: a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.

So given these definitions that are already a part of the federal laws of the United States should the attackers of case number two be prosecuted for hate crimes?

The Matthew Sheppard Act aka the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 would amend title 18 chapter 13 of the United States Code to include section 249. In its present form it reads as follows:

(a) In General-
(1) OFFENSES INVOLVING ACTUAL OR PERCEIVED RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, OR NATIONAL ORIGIN- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person-
(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and
(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if-
(i) death results from the offense; or
(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

Given the wording of this addendum to title 18 chapter 13 of the United States Code could certain crimes that would not normally be construed as a hate crime have the potential of being prosecuted as hate crimes. The other question is will this only be restricted to those whose race is considered white or will this include everyone regardless of the color of their skin? Only time will tell if this legislation is truly meant to protect everyone, or just a rather small minority of the citizens of the United States of America.