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Christopher r. Martin
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Eleanor J. Bader
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When Is a Hate Crime Not a Hate Crime?
F rom being physically harassed in my middle-class New Jersey Catholic high school in the mid-1960s to being assaulted in Boston’s outdoor cruising areas, I’ve seen a lot of anti-gay harassment. The closest I’ve come to deadly violence was on November 18, 1980. I had been standing in front of the Ramrod bar in New York’s Greenwich Village as several dozen men in leather jackets and jeans were chatting and cruising, taking a break from the smoky bar. Soon I left for the Mineshaft, another West Village club, noted for its rowdy Thursday two-for-one night. Thirty minutes later, Ronald K. Crumpley fired 40 rounds from a semiautomatic rifle and two pistols into the cluster of men outside the Ramrod, killing two and wounding six others. Bartenders at the Mineshaft told us what had happened and urged us to be careful since no one was certain there was only one shooter.
In the 1960s and 1970s, public expressions of homosexuality and
physical violence were so intricately bound together that, as a
community, we expected it. In this part of the world, in 2006, things
have changed for gay men. That is why the recent attack at Puzzles
Lounge in New Bedford, Massachusetts was truly shocking.
On Thursday, February 2, just after midnight, Jacob D. Robida, an 18-year-old high school dropout, entered Puzzles Lounge. After being served two drinks, Robida asked if it was “a gay bar.” When told that it was, he assaulted patrons with a handgun and a hatchet, wounding three men, two seriously. He fled home, left a note for his mother that apologized and expressed his love, but added, “I have to go out by my means.” He then took her car, picked up his ex-girlfriend Jennifer Bailey in West Virginia, and drove to Arkansas where he shot and killed a part-time police officer. After a 16-mile chase, Robida crashed his car and then shot Bailey in the head before he shot himself. He died the following day.
According to news reports, when New Bedford police searched Robida’s bedroom they found “homemade posters disparaging African-Americans and Jews, neoNazi literature and skinhead paraphernalia,” as well as an empty coffin.
The first response to the attacks—by police, the media, and spokespeople for gay groups—was that this was a “hate crime” that specifically targeted homosexuals. Although Bristol District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. has stated that Robida seemed to have no connections to any known groups that promoted anti-Semitic, racist, or anti-gay ideology, filling one’s bedroom with Nazi regalia suggests at least a serious predisposition to social malignity.
After the attacks, the media reached out to national gay spokespeople such as Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), who stated that “the hatred and loathing fueling” the New Bedford attacks “is not innate, it is learned” from the likes of James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Reverend Pat Robertson, and others on the Christian right who are “obsessed with homosexuality.” Clarence Patton, the acting executive director of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, argued that such violence was a reaction to queer political organizing: “It happened in Massachusetts during the fight to secure same-sex marriage rights, it happened in San Francisco for the same reasons.” Neil G. Giuliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), saw the New Bedford incident as an attack on the entire gay community: “This act of defamation highlights the need for all of us to do what we can to combat the hatred and bigotry our community still faces.”
Over the past three decades we have created the term “hate crime”—a violent, or sometimes simply verbal, expression of vehement and vicious dislike for a specific group. We have a federal law that adds extra sentencing penalties to crimes that target people because of race, religion, and nationality; 22 states include sexual orientation as a protected category. There has been a decade-long fight by gay rights groups to include sexual orientation in the federal law, although there is almost no evidence that these laws function as a deterrent. Up until last May, the ACLU had opposed federal legislation for fear that it would interfere with protected free speech. Other civil liberty groups argue that hate crime legislation is discriminatory and selective in the categories they protect. For instance, vigilantism against suspected or convicted criminals—say sex offenders—would not be a hate crime.
Interestingly, gender, despite the struggle by many feminist groups to become a protected classification in many states, is almost never used in cases of rape or domestic violence. If it were, rape could be classified as a hate crime directed specifically against women and the criminal penalties for rape and sexual assault—almost all against men—would increase tremendously.
But the biggest problem with hate-crime legislation is that it is predicated on the idea that physical and verbal attacks against protected groups are all fueled by ideological animus. The reality is that not all violence against gay people is, by its nature, homophobic or ideologically hateful. Matt Foreman’s blaming Pat Robertson and his cohorts for the Puzzles Lounge attacks feels wildly off-base. Such easy connections between words and actions are not only difficult to prove but often specious and selectively constructed. People may argue that there was a particular animus against homosexuals in this case. After all, when Robida went into Puzzles Lounge that Thursday night he asked if it was a gay bar. But given that we now know that Robida was on a suicide trip, Puzzles Lounge may well have been the easiest available outlet for his hate-filled emotions.
Robida was a poor, high-school dropout living in an economically devastated city. The Boston Globe reported that New Bedford social services investigated complaints that he was neglected. He lived alone with his mother who was blind and physically disabled, confined to a wheelchair. News reports quote Robida’s friends—including lesbians—who claim he never said anything negative about homosexuals. While people should be held responsible for their actions, if we are going to deal effectively with this kind of violence, we are going to have to understand it better in all its manifestations.
The case of Jacob Robida raises questions about not only how we look at—and classify—violence, but also how we deal with it legally. Hate crime legislation is intended to deter crimes against specific groups of people by adding extra prison time—usually called “penalty enhancement”—to their sentences for the “intent” to harm people based on ideological animus. Like all laws they are imperfect. It is not clear if Robida would have been tried under hate crime legislation since he never vocalized a specific animus against homosexuals at the time of the crime (or elsewhere in his life, on-line, or in the personal effects in his room). It is clear that hate crime laws did not deter Robida from his violent attack and if he had gone to prison for these actions he probably would have been denied the basic mental health care he needed.
Did Jacob Robida commit a hate crime? We will never know. Ronald K. Crumpley was the son of a conservative Baptist Christian minister. After the 1980 shootings, many gay groups blamed his family’s religious beliefs for his actions. He was later found to be mentally ill, is still considered dangerous, and is confined to a New York state psychiatric ward. Twenty-five years ago I would have agreed with gay groups and the media that what Crumpley did was a classic hate crime. But as horrifying and deadly as it was, I am not sure I would say that now.
Michael Bronski is the author of Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps (St. Martin’s Press, 2004).
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.