Monday, January 30, 2006
On this day:

Immature prank or hate crime?

An Auburn University freshman has been charged under Wisconsin's hate crimes statute for harassing a gay student while he visited friends at the University of Wisconsin recently. From the Chicago Tribune:
Four suburban [Chicago] teenagers [including one who now attends Auburn University] have been charged with felony hate crimes, accused of shouting slurs at a gay University of Wisconsin-Madison student and vandalizing his property, authorities said Monday.

No one was injured in the early morning altercation in Ogg Residence Hall on Dec. 21, and property damage was limited to torn photographs and posters promoting a campus center for lesbians, gays and others.

But the nature of the attack and the fact that it was directed at a student based on his sexual orientation prompted Dane County, Wis., prosecutors to elevate misdemeanor disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property charges to felony hate crimes. ...

The men are accused of gathering outside the dorm room of a male student who is one of two gay and lesbian liaisons for the university's housing system and shouting anti-gay slurs and expletives.

Someone also tore down photographs of homosexual couples and posters promoting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Campus Center that were outside the room. Someone also spat on his door and wrote an anti-gay statement in marker on a bulletin board outside the room.

This January 19 report from University of Wisconsin's campus newspaper has more details:
According to the criminal complaint, the alleged victim said he was sleeping in his dorm room at around 2:30 a.m. Dec. 21 when he was awoken by male voices yelling, “All f*ggots should die! I hate f*cking f*ggots!”

The alleged victim then reportedly heard a male voice say “Oh, who wrote that?” followed by another voice saying “I wrote that.”

The complaint then states the alleged victim said he opened the door to find saliva dripping down his door. His bulletin board, which LGBT posters had been ripped off of, now reportedly read, “I hate f*cking f*ggots! Die.”
University of Wisconsin Interim Provost Virginia Sapiro was quick to condemn the crime, stating that "The University of Wisconsin - Madison is a place for people of all social, political, and religious beliefs, but aggressive and violent behavior towards others will not be tolerated." She also reminded students that "UW-Madison offers a range of resources and educational programming for members of the campus community interested in learning more about LGBT issues."

All four suspects are charged with criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct. Under Wisconsin's hate crimes statute, the destruction of property charge (at least) will be boosted from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Look, I think we can all agree that these guys should be punished in some way for what they did, but let's review: four young college men got drunk, shouted epithets, tore down signs, and spat on a door. To elevate this type of behavior to felony status - based solely on the group identity of the victim - is not only unjust; it is absurd. It penalizes the offenders for their thoughts and prejudices, instead of their actions, and it trivializes those crimes which should be felonies.

Next week, the Alabama legislature will consider whether to expand the state's hate crimes law to cover crimes committed because of the victim's sexual orientation. This case should help illustrate that what is needed is not the expansion of Alabama's hate crimes law, but its repeal.