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What is a Hate Crime?

When the words hate crime appear in our newspapers or on our televisions, most people think of crimes against people of African-American descent. However, as the late 90ís and in the new millennium more and more crimes have been perpetrated against people who live a gay/lesbian lifestyle and people of Middle Eastern religious beliefs. The first federally legislated hate crime law came about after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr..

So, what crimes can be considered a hate crime? A hate crime should be a heinous crime that is perpetrated against an individual or a group of individuals based on their skin color, religious belief systems or their lifestyle. However, legally there is no current law that makes attacks against gay and lesbian people or people of a certain religious affiliation, a hate crime.

One of the most famous crimes that could not be tried as a hate crime was that of a young college student named Matthew Shepard. In 1998, Matthew Shepard, was killed by two men because he was gay. He had met the two men at a bar. Shortly after midnight, the two men, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, offered Shepard a ride home. The boy would never make it there. They robbed and tortured him and trussed him to a fence like a scarecrow. When he was found and taken to a hospital, he was in a coma and died from his injuries a few days later. He never regained consciousness and was on full life support until he was pronounced dead. He had a skull fracture that went from the back of his head to the front of his right ear, multiple lacerations on his face and head and had severe damage to his brain stem. The two men were sentenced to two consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole.

Another famous hate crime that garnered national attention was in 1986. Three black youths were driving through the predominately white suburb of Queens, New York known as Howard Beach. Their car was broken down and another car with some white youths in it drove past them and they shouted racial slurs at them and told them to get out of the neighborhood. The black youths were lost and hungry and decided to go to a pizza parlor to get a bite to eat. When they left the restaurant, they saw a group of ten white youths standing outside wielding baseball bats. The white youths chased the black youths and one of them was struck by a car as he ran into Shore Parkway and was killed. One of the black youths was able to hide and another escaped a beating by climbing through a hole in the fence. Three of the boys were convicted of second degree manslaughter and first-degree assault but were acquitted of the second degree murder charges. A fourth youth was acquitted of all charges. One of the youths was sentenced to ten to thirty years in prison. Another was given five to fifteen years and the third was sentenced to six to eighteen years in prison.

Hate crimes are considered some of the most heinous of crimes because they target a specific group of people and are usually very brutal. As I stated earlier, there is no federal legislation that makes crimes against gays and lesbians hate crimes but President-elect Barak Obama has said that he will plan on broadening the scope of hate crimes and what crimes should be considered as hate crimes.





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