Opponents of such a law claim that you are punishing people for thought rather than the act they committed. But what the law really accomplishes is tougher punishment based on the person’s intent. People committing crimes against a person because of their race, or because they are gay, have accepted a dehumanized image of their victim. This perception in the criminal's mind makes the crime justified because civil laws apply only to “normal” human beings, not sub-humans or animals.
In its worst form it results in such things as the 1930 Marion, Indiana lynching, where local residents dragged accused, innocent black men from their jail cells and hung them as a large crowd approvingly watched. In 1998, the nation was shocked when two Wyoming men robbed, severely beat Matthew Shepard, tied him to a fence and left him to die. The attackers used the so-called gay panic defense to justify their crimes—he allegedly made sexual advances toward them. They were not, however, charged with a hate crime because Wyoming did not and does not to this day have such a law.
Whether it is the lynching in Indiana or Shepard’s gay beating death in Wyoming, the problem lies in the prejudices people are taught early in life. As Shepard’s mother Judy has said:
Matt is no longer with us today because the men who killed him learned to hate. Somehow and somewhere they received the message that the lives of gay people are not as worthy of respect, dignity and honor as the lives of other people.Unfortunately, these are not just isolated incidents. While hates crimes committed because of a person’s race have been on the decline, reported crimes committed against a person because of their sexual orientation have been rising. One of the worst such incidents happened right here in Marion County after the Shepard crime in 1999, and the crime was committed by none other than the grandson of Rep. Julia Carson (D), who has publicly advocated positions in support of gay civil rights. Jamie Carson, then-18, broke into the home of two gay men with two accomplices, forced them to perform sex acts on each other at gunpoint, burned them with a steam iron, tied them together and taunted them with homophobic remarks. One of the men was forced to drink a mixture of urine and bleach. Vic Ryckaert of the Star reported on Carson’s victims in April 13, 2002 edition:
An Indianapolis man was found guilty of brutalizing two men during a 1999 robbery in an attack a prosecutor called a hate crime.In an earlier report at a bond hearing in the November 6, 1999 edition of the Star, Jamie Carson, who was also charged with several other homes invasions, the Star reported that “members of both the Hispanic and gay community showed up in court to make it known they wanted Carson in jail.” The Star added, “Many of the victims in the robberies are Hispanic, and police believe they were targeted in part because most of them do not speak English and would have problems communicating about the attacks.”
After a one-day trial Friday in Marion Superior Court, Judge Patricia Gifford convicted Jamie C. Carson, 20, of six felony charges and one misdemeanor in connection with the October 28, 1999, sexual assault and torture of two men in a Northwest side apartment.
“In this particular case, it happened because they were homosexual,” said Deputy Prosecutor Richard Plath. “There’s no question that this is a hate crime, and we are going to push for that at sentencing.”
Indiana does not have a law that addresses hate crimes, Plath said, but such acts can be used to justify tougher sentences.
Carson is scheduled to be sentenced May 10. Plath said the charges carried a maximum penalty of 240 years in prison.
Police say Carson and two accomplices forced the men at gunpoint to perform sex acts on each other. The victims were tied up and burned with a steam iron. One was forced to drink a mixture of bleach and urine.
Carson’s fingerprint was found on the steam iron. Carson, who was allowed to act as his own co-counsel with the assistance of public defender Bob Hill, claimed the evidence was planted by police.
The judge said she did not believe his argument.
“The fact that the defendant’s fingerprint was found on one of the items used to torture these men is extremely telling,” Gifford said.
One victim, Eric Heyob, testified that the horrific events replay over and over in his
“The pain is indescribable,” Heyob, 26, said after the verdict. “Now, here today, the verdict is a sigh of relief.”
Heyob agreed to be identified. The Indianapolis Star does not normally identify sexual assault victims without their permission.
Carson, the grandson of U.S. Rep. Julia Carson, was convicted of robbery, attempted robbery, two counts of criminal deviate conduct and two counts of criminal confinement. He also was convicted of the misdemeanor of carrying a handgun without a license.
The congresswoman, a Democrat who represents parts of Indianapolis, was not in court Friday. When contacted after the trial, Julia Carson’s staff said she was not available to comment on the case . . .
Carson’s grandson committed these crimes at the age of 18. The deep-seated prejudices he held towards gays and Hispanics were no doubt learned at home. While Carson boasts of her record on gay and minority issues, she was noticeably silent when her grandson was charged and convicted. She offered no explanations and no apologies on behalf of her family. Even worse, she was never publicly questioned by the GLBT or Hispanic community, or asked to apologize to the victims and the affected minority communities.
Carson was very quick this past week, however, to drag out an unproven, 15-year-old charge against her Republican opponent, Eric Dickerson. “He beat his wife to a pulp,” she claimed. Although both Dickerson and his wife, the alleged victim, denied the charge, Carson justified raising the issue because she says her mother was a victim of domestic violence and Dickerson was pretending to be “Mr. Righteous”. Carson, whose has had her own tumultuous, broken marriages, was careful not to claim to be a victim of such abuse herself. She knew better. If her broken marriages, failed businesses, self-dealing and scofflaw ways were laid bare the same way she opened one day in Mr. Dickerson’s life up to scrutiny fifteen years ago, she would be run out of town.
While some in the gay community have criticized Advance Indiana for raising questions about Carson because of her past support for GLBT issues, it is impossible to separate the private actions from her public life. A person’s private actions often speak louder than their public actions, and that is the case with Rep. Carson. She screams racism and negative campaigning whenever she is asked legitimate questions about her actions in public office. At the same time, she has proven in campaign after campaign a willingness to drag up old charges against her political opponents, which play on people’s prejudices. When her opponents are African-American-males, she and her campaign operatives drag up charges that play to white people’s worst stereotypes of black men. When her opponent is a gay man, she and her operatives drag up charges to play on straight people’s worst stereotypes of gay men. These are the values she teaches her family, and her political operatives.
Yes, Indiana needs a hate crime law. We need a hate crime law because when Carson-like “family values” are taught to our children, we are forced to live in a community that shuns diversity and promotes fear and hatred towards those who are different than us. But we also need leaders who reflect true “family values”. Look at Rep. Carson and her family, and then take a look at Eric Dickerson’s life-time achievements, service to his country and, most importantly, his "unbroken" family. Whose children were taught true "family values"? Whose family would you want your family to be like?
UPDATE: An Advocate story about one of Carson's victims came to my attention today. Joshua Runnels tells the Advocate in 2002 of his nightmare ordeal. The article begins: "It took three years, but Indiana resident Joshua Runnels finally got justice on May 10 when Jamie Carson, the ringleader of three men who broke into his house and tortured him and his roommate in an antigay attack, was sentenced to 120 years in prison. Carson, 20, is the grandson of U.S. representative Julia Carson, an Indiana Democrat." To continue reading, click here.