Hate crime bill deserves second chance
As we hear the news about another crime victim, most people often ask themselves, "What possesses a person to commit a crime against another?"
We instantly feel some level of compassion toward the victim; he or she could easily have been an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But of course, no one can possibly know or understand the thoughts and fears of a crime victim. The experience alone can cause lasting psychological and social effects.
For example, according to an American Psychological Association article, child molestation victims not only live with the memory of the experience, but can also suffer from depression, poor self-esteem and anxiety.
It is also of particular importance to examine the victims of hate crimes. How does one regain his or her sense of confidence, self worth and his or her ability to exist comfortably in society?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Web site, nationally in 2005, approximately 8,400 Americans were victims of hate crimes. Of those victims, 14.2 percent were victimized because of their sexual orientation.
In the state, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety website, approximately 264 hate crime incidents and 266 victims were reported in 2005.
Even though statistical data has yet to be released for 2006, one particular hate crime, which unfortunately ended in tragedy, will remain fresh in our minds for a long time to come.
The victim, a teenage boy from Houston, will not only be remembered because he was a victim, but because he took his story to Washington in an effort to persuade Congress to improve and expand current hate crime laws.
His name was David Ritcheson and before his death last Sunday, he was an 18-year-old student at Klein Collins High School in Spring, Texas.
According to a Houston Chronicle article, as it stands now, the bill for which Ritcheson testified would extend current hate crime laws to protect homosexuals and those targeted because of their gender.
Unfortunately, President Bush threatened to veto the bill stating that local and state criminal laws already include the crimes being defined by this new bill and there is no need whatsoever to make this a federal law.
It could be speculated that the only reason Bush is threatening to veto is because he is trying to hold onto the few positive approval ratings he has remaining with religious and social conservative groups and his Republican constituents.
In fact, social conservative groups are even claiming that this bill would violate their First Amendment right to vocalize their disapproval of homosexuality.
But how can this bill compromise their freedom of speech if their words are only words? It is like the saying goes, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."
Making this bill a federal law provides protection and allows the cases of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community members to be heard instead of possibly being neglected.
Too many individuals and groups of people have been the targets of hate crimes for far too long.
Latimer, a creative-writing graduate student, can be reached via [email protected]