Toys, the Death Penalty and the Gay Movement
case you missed it, the Week in Review section of the 7/23/00 Sunday New York
Times ran a most incredible piece. Instead of summarizing from it, let me just
quote a few choice sentences:
Say Die, Just Execute.
Row Marv....is the latest toy from McFarlane Toys... Marv, who apparently needs
no last name, is railroaded to the electric chair, condemned to die for what he
regards as a justifiable revenge killing. The battery-operated toy, which is
sold in specialty shops and music stores for about $20 and marketed for ages 13
and up, is not for the faint of heart: 'Watch Marv convulse as the switch is
thrown,' say the words on the box, 'then hear him say, 'That the best you can
do?'' His eyes 'glow red as he fries.' The toy's typical buyer is the
first production was completely sold out in pre-order sales, before we even
shipped,' said Beau Smith, director of marketing at McFarlane Toys..."
July 27th, a press conference organized by New York City Councilmember Bill
Perkins had to be postponed because there were conflicting press conferences at
City Hall. Perkins has introduced a resolution that, if passed, will have the
New York City Council supporting a moratorium on death penalty executions. It
turns out that one of the conflicts was a press conference announcing support
from some of the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community for Hillary Clinton
in her bid for election to the Senate. What about her support for the death
penalty? Why isn't the death penalty a gay issue?
the same time, the cries for hate crimes legislation are as loud as ever. I'm
sure I am in the minority in the lgbt community - although I also know I am not
alone on this - when I say that it is troubling to see how much effort goes into
hate crimes legislation, especially when compared to what goes into working to
stop such crimes from happening in the first place.
I understand some of the logic of hate crimes legislation (both locally and at
the state level) it seems that the gay movement puts disproportionate resources
and energies into fighting for bills to punish people after the fact, as opposed
to getting to the core of the problem and working to stop hate crimes before
they happen. For instance, what about working to put into place programs in
public school that address and confront hate and violence?
concerned that the emphasis on hate crimes legislation seems to rely on laws to
remedy extremely deep problems in this culture. Laws can certainly help, but
just a quick look at civil rights legislation and how that has altered - or not
- race relations, or challenged racism, should shed some light here.
criticism of hate crimes legislation is heightened by the ever-increasing use of
police, prisons and other coercive arms of the state. I hope the lgbt movement -
literally born in a fight against the police - does not end up being one more
reinforcement of abusive policing.
top of all this, a recent email alert from the Executive Director of the
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (the national lgbt organization positioned
as the progressive wing of this movement) explained that the only way to pass
the Congressional hate crimes bill is as part of what they called "the
must-pass annual defense act." I assumed they were referring to the
military appropriations act!
again, here is an example of seeing something that impacts on us all (the
military budget) as a "non-gay" issue and therefore not something our
leadership should be addressing. And it is exactly in such moments that we see
the limits of identity politics. (Please do not get me wrong, I am not one of
those who suggest that identity politics have undermined class unity and
distracted us from the "real" issues.)
serious effort throughout this country is needed to confront the reality of hate
crimes...be they against lgbt people, people of color, women, the disabled or
others. But to address this issue in isolation is to feed the law-and-order
frenzy across the nation, evidenced in everything from lgbt Gore supporters
claiming that Bush is soft on crime because he does not rigorously support hate
crimes legislation (yes, it gets this convoluted and weird) to the successful
marketing of "Death Row Marv", the toy execution.
is a madness in this land. If we are to successfully cure this problem the
leaders of our social change movements must be pushed by their constituents to
see the big picture and do the right thing. In this instance, it is time for the
lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender movement to stop its love affair with hate
crimes legislation and get serious about confronting the causes of such crimes
in the first place. And one critical step is that we must stand with others
calling for an end to the death penalty.
Leslie Cagan, a decades-long social change organizer, is off to Philadelphia for the demonstrations around the Republican Convention. Her reports from Philly will be shared with ZNet as quickly as is possible.