Honoring Matthew Shepard

There is some excellent news out of the Senate today.  Yesterday, the Senate voted to extend Federal hate crime laws so they will protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual and disabled Americans.  Previous laws only covered people who were attacked based on skin color, gender, national origin or religion.

Read all about it:

Senate Votes for Expanded Federal Authority to Prosecute Hate Crimes

The bill is named after Matthew Shepard, the young man from Wyoming who was tied to a fence, beaten and left to die in 1998.  I cannot think of a better way to honor his memory than to extend hate crime laws to include the GLBT community.

Of course, President Bush has indicated he will veto the bill when it gets to his desk.

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We’ve Got to Be Careful About Nooses

As I was watching the CNN’s Special Investigations Unit episode called “Judgement in Jena”, one of the women interviewed said she felt the Jena community should have pulled the white students who placed nooses from a “white only tree” and told them that nooses are of the past and “we’ve got to be careful about that.  People can’t do that anymore.”

As if it were acceptable any other time.  As if it’s just a matter of not publicly displaying nooses.  Keep them inside your minds and everything is okay.

Prior to SIU, I saw a round table news program on which a journalist from The Washington Post suggested that this was not the best case to reignite the civil rights movement.  She commented on the fact that Mychal Bell, one of the members of the Jena Six, has had a previous record.  She also said that the Jena Six kids were violent, which is contrary to the original civil rights movement.

And she is right that a fight occured.  And she is right that Mychal Bell had a previous record (his mother claims he was defending himself against an older, drunk man).  But what the journalist ignores is that this isn’t about whether or not a fight occured (last I checked, no one claimed a fight didn’t occur).  This is about the charges of second degree attempted murder.  This is about claiming one of the defendant’s shoe was a weapon (because a weapon must be involved to charge someone with second degree attempted murder). 

Meanwhile, in December, a white man pulls a shotgun on three black students.  The students wrestle the man to the ground and take the shotgun away from him.  His charge: nothing.  Their charge: assault and theft (of the shotgun).

That is what this is about.  Equal justice under the law.  Mychal Bell could have murdered someone but he would still deserve equal justice under the law.  The charges brought against him and his fellow students are not equal to the lack of charges brought against all of the white people who have been committing crimes toward blacks since the nooses were first hung from the tree. 

And the nooses were a hate crime.  Plain and simple.  Not something “to be careful about.”

Nevertheless, the woman from SIU better head to North Carolina.  Some kids aren’t being careful there, either:

Nooses Found At N.C. High School

UPDATED 9/23/07: 9:28 PM

Because people think we’re crazy when we say racism is still a real threat in America, you must read this story:

FBI probes supremacist Web site over Jena Six

UPDATED 9/26/07: 5:42 PM

Congress may soon be looking closely at the Jena Six case.  Read all about it:

Congress to hold hearings on ‘Jena 6’

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With the Computer, With Picket Signs and With Bare Feet

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here

Almost a month ago, I asked about the state of protesting in our country.  I had come up with a thesis that no one protested any more.  Reading through the news today, I found out I was dead wrong.

Louisiana Protest Echoes the Civil Rights Era

Yes, yesterday there was a major protest in Jena, Louisiana.  And this is definately what I would call a worthy case of social protest.  Similarly, there was a protest in support of the Jena Six at my Alma Mater, The University of Toledo, yesterday.  While I cannot confirm it, I assume similar local rallies were held throughout the nation. 

As I’ve learned more and more about this case, I keep asking myself: Why did they cut the tree down?  It seems like such a waste. 

Meanwhile, an electronic campaign of civil protesting has been going on in California.

Rumsfeld as Fellow Draws a Protest at Stanford

This electronic version of the protest, as noted by the news article, is likely to transform into a physical, tangible protest next week.  And this is good and necessary.  I still don’t know exactly what kind of power an electronic protest can have but it certainly lacks the kind of power a physical protest has in regards to gaining major media, and thus major public, attention. 

Still, isn’t something wrong when Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo, of the Stanford Prison Experiment, is saying this guy is too nuts to teach there?

And our last look at modern protest takes us across the globe.

Monks in Myanmar Protest for Third Day

There are some fabulous images of the monks in the print edition of The New York Times and some can be found with some fancy searching through the newspaper’s website.  But the concept here is absolutly beautiful.  The ancient Buddhist monks, marching in their red robes, bright as the setting sun, all the while holding their begging bowls upside down.  It’s a Gary Snyder poem, if ever I heard one.  Perhaps I’ll have to write it.

I prefer the monks’ way.  I always have.  The subtlety of it is inspiring to me.  And though I know it never gets the quick results like other forms of protest and it isn’t sexy enough to make the front page, there is a real integrity to it.  And honesty.  A self assuredness that they are right and that they are doing right. 

I often wish I had that same self assuredness.

For a slide show of the Jena Six rally in Louisiana, click here.


Johnny Cash – Man in Black” posted by globespotter

UPDATED 9/21/07: 4:10 PM

Breaking News about the Jena Six:

No bail for ‘Jena Six’ teen

UPDATED 9/21/07: 9:24 PM

I just got a news article regarding the smaller protests being done in support of the Jena Six.  Read all about it:

Facebook Generation Rallies for the Jena Six

UPDATED 9/23/07: 9:23 PM

The protests by the Buddhist monks in Burma have continued, lasting now for five straight days.  Yesterday, the crowd, including over 10,000 people and including over 4,00o monks, made there way to Nobel laureate and peace activist Aung San Suu Kyi.  Read all about it:

Witnesses: Monks protest near Suu Kyi house

It might be because of the beautiful photography and the incredible image of peace that this story creates in my head, but I am riveted by what is happening in Burma.  I wish we were getting more news about it here in America.

For more on what is happening in Burma, see “What’s Going On in Burma“.

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[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

“Hip-hop’s Simmons wants to remove offensive words”

So, Russell Simmons has finally been pressured to speak out against the “strong language” of many of the records he produces/finances.  Check out this news story, which comes in the wake of the Don Imus controversy, from Reuters.

Hip-Hop’s Simmons wants to remove offensive words 

I don’t know.  I don’ buy it.  Everything I have seen about Simmons has led me to think he cares a whole lot more about money than about women or the representation of women.  In fact, at every instance, until now, he has refused to acknowledge that the lyrics of his artists are in anyway problematic in regards to women. 

It is also curious that last week I was walking out of the hallway and I saw Simmons on Oprah being chewed out by every female member of Oprah’s audience.  Oprah has a lot of money and influence.  Maybe that’s what finally got Simmons to say something.

I Better Talk About Don Imus

I should talk about Don Imus.  So much has already been said, though.  So rather than repeat what others have already said, why don’t you read this, which is probably my favorite discussion of the Don Imus controversy.  It’s the editorial, “Our Prejudices, Ourselves” by Harvey Fierstein, from The New York Times:

My thoughts: The late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once asked a group of college kids if theirs was the first generation of color blind Americans.  The students said yes.  Vonnegut applauded them for that.  Me?  I wish those kids had been right.  My experience shows they were wrong.

Hate Speech

On February 28th, the New York City Council approved a “symbolic resolution” to ban the use of the N-Word.  According to Sara Kugler of New Jersey’s Newark Star-Ledger, “The resolution, approved unanimously, asks New Yorkers to stop using the word, which has long been a racial epithet.”  New York’s resolution, which is not a law and carries no penalties for those who do not follow it, follows similar resolutions passed throughout New Jersey after Michael Richards (Kramer on Seinfeld) verbally attacked a pair of hecklers by using the N-Word.  Supporters of the resolution “are considering a letter-writing and e-mail campaign to persuade entertainment leaders and companies to join the cause.”

Apparently, Ann Coulter didn’t get the email.  If she did, she must not have understood it.  Or she just didn’t care.

Last Friday, speaking to an overflow crowd  at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Coulter, the author of the political books Treason, Slander, and Godless, said, “I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘fa****’.”  The crowd responded by laughing and applauding.  The other speakers at the conference included many of the Republican contenders for the Presidential nomination, including Mitt Romney who introduced Coulter.

Everyone should know the definition of the F-Word.  But so there is no doubt for those who don’t, The Oxford English Dictionary, defines it as, “A bundle of sticks, twigs, or small branches of trees bound together for use as fuel.  With special reference to the practice of burning heretics alive.  A (male) homosexual.”

The following day, the three leading Republican candidates, Rudy Guiliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain, denounced Coulter’s comment.  Coulter responded by saying, “Apparently [Guiliani, Romney and McCain] aren’t that smart.”  She also sent an email, apparently to Edwards’ campaign manager, that said, “C’mon, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean.”

Coulter continues to assert that she was just making a joke and, as such, has refused to apologize.  She feels she has done nothing wrong and that she was attacking John Edwards and not the gay community.  But is that possible?  Maybe Coulter doesn’t understand the history of that word.  Maybe she is unaware of the violent acts against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people throughout history.  Quite frankly, I don’t care.  She should know.  

She needs to know that when she says that word, she brings up the history of associating homosexuals with “the practice of burning heretics alive.”  

She needs to know that by using that word as a joke, she is calling the reactions of Nazi Germany toward homosexuals a joke.  The Nazis arrested 100,000 homosexuals and convincted 50,000 of them as criminals.  Hundreds were castrated and between 10,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps.  And, according to Echo  Magazine, “estimates of the number of gay men killed in the camps range from about 15,000 to as many as 600,000.”

She needs to ask herself if Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson used that word as they drove Matthew Shepard to the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming in 1998.  Did they yell it as they pistol whipped his head eighteen times and then bound him to a fence “so tightly that police had difficulty cutting him free”?  Did they spit it from their mouths as they left him, bleeding and begging for his life, his face a mash of blood and sweat?  Did they joke to themselves about the “fa****” they left in Wyoming flatlands, hung to a fence like a scarecrow and offered to the crows, rats and other vermin to chew on his flesh as he died?

Does she want to be a part of that joke?  From what we know of her, if she knew, she probably wouldn’t care.  Don’t believe me?  Here is a link to an article by the Washington Monthly, ironically titled “The Wisdom of Ann Coulter.”

It doesn’t irritate me so much that Coulter would do something like this.  She’s, put simply, a nut.  She always has been and always will be.  She has proven this time and again.  I know it, liberals know it and even conservatives know it.  What irritates me is that there wasn’t a sudden rush of people, gasping and filing out of the conference after Coulter said that word.  By sitting in the crowd, applauding and laughing, or even by just sitting and doing nothing, everyone at the conference showed that they condoned the use of the word.  They showed that they approve of the tactic of attacking people through hate speech.  They showed that they accept the history of that word and the way it has been used to kill people.  Let me repeat that: the way it has been used to kill people.

As far as I am concerned, the blood of the victims of hate crimes falls firmly at Ann Coulter’s feet.  But it also falls at the feet of all of us who do nothing to stop the casual use of hate speech.  This includes the media.  This includes the organizers of CPAC.  This includes the people who laughed and applauded her.  And this includes everyone who didn’t immediately stand up and leave.  

Mitt Romney, Rudy Guiliani and others waited until a day after the conference to chastise Coulter, their invited guest.  One day was too long to wait.  One hour would have been too long of a wait.