Pass hate crimes legislation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Many people recognize the name of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student who was beaten, lashed to a fence post and killed in 1998.

They may not know the name of Billy Joe Gaither of Sylacauga. Gaither had his throat slashed, his head fractured with an axe handle, and his body burned on a pile of kerosene-soaked tires in 1999.

You may not have heard of Scotty Joe Weaver, either. Weaver was an 18-year-old Bay Minette man who was beaten, strangled, stabbed, cut, partially decapitated and set on fire in 2004.

What those three young men have in common is that they were all killed because of their sexual orientation.

According to Baldwin County District Attorney David Whetstone, the brutal nature of the Weaver murder “is suggestive of overkill, which is not something you see in a regular robbery and murder.” He said there is “not a doubt in my mind,” that Weaver’s sexual orientation played a part in his murder.

Today, heated debate is expected in the state House as officials consider legislation to expand Alabama’s hate crimes law to cover crimes committed because of the victim’s sexual orientation.

Republican lawmakers say the bill makes an assault on certain people worse than an attack on others.

That may be true, but the Legislature already did that with its hate crimes law in 1994 that mandates longer minimum sentences for crimes committed because of the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability – but not sexual orientation.

The reason those groups were named in the 1994 hate crimes law is because they had been specifically targeted in the past. More recently, gays and lesbians have been the victims of violent attacks.

Those who oppose the legislation should be prepared to repeal the hate crimes bill of 1994, or move forward to protect others who are targets of these particularly brutal attacks.