Hate In America On October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped from a bar by two men. While tied to a wooden ranch fence, he was beaten nearly to death with a .357 magnum handgun. Eighteen hours later, a passerby discovered him hanging there. He almost appeared to be crucified. He lay in a coma for six days until he died on October 12, 1998. When trying to understand hate crimes, it is important to understand the legal definition. The definition of a hate crime is “crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim because of the actual perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person” (Altshciller 17). Hate crimes occur in many different forms: a Nazi swastika etched into a grave in a Jewish cemetery, a racist telephone call, and even murder of a minority member. Hate crimes have been around since the 1800’s and are not going away. New legislation needs to be set in place to make hate crimes easier to categorize and punish. Some argue that hate crimes are covered by the First Amendment. In some cases criminals have had charges dropped because burning a cross was a form of free speech (“Crime in America” 112). The main difference is that hate crimes are not covered by the First Amendment, but unfortunately, Hate speech is. Our Constitution protects free speech, even if it is hurtful and ignorant. One of the most common forms of hate crime is gay bashing. Nineteen percent of gays have been punched, kicked or beaten because of their sexual orientation. Forty four percent threatened with physical violence and of that, ninety two percent threatened more than once (Herek and Berill 214). Of these statistics, only a small number of victims will actually go to the police. Most victims would like to prosecute their attackers, but feel too vulnerable as homosexuals to be exposed. Perhaps …
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