The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is rooted in an anti-death penalty history, something the proposed legislation ignores. courtesy Flickr

Possible hate crime legislation undermines intention of forgiveness

The implementation of the death penalty for hate crimes limits the possibility of parole for convicts.

Hate crimes are a big issue for the United States as racial, gender-based and political tensions increase across the country. In an attempt to address this problem, federal legislation was put forward to arrest those who threaten another person based on their political, racial or gender identity. In 2009, then-President Barack Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This act, based on the deaths of two gay men, removed the restrictions that only crimes based on ethnic, religious or national identity during federal protected activities, such as voting or going to school, would be known as hate crimes.

According to Senate Bill 1105, it would also “award grants to state, local, and tribal programs designed to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles.” The goal of the bill was to increase the ability of federal and state agents to catch criminals who commit hate crimes. This legislation, as well as state laws regarding hate crime legislation, is in the process of being changed so that specific hate crimes would result in the death penalty.

This new change to the legislation would go against the original wishes of Matthew Shepard’s parents: In the original court case against Aaron McKinney, one of the murderers, Matthew Shepard’s father fought to remove the death penalty from his son’s case. In a statement towards McKinney, Shepard says, “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.”

By creating this amendment to the previous legislation, the government would be going against the wishes of the man who helped inspire the bill’s creation. If the man who had to deal with his own son’s death can show mercy, the government should be able to follow similar policies and avoid this legislation. The death of the criminal does not bring back the victim from the dead. It merely puts the legal system on a similar playing field to the murderer in the act of dispensing violence of those viewed as worse individuals.

Additionally, the application of the death penalty on hate crimes does not teach or fix any problem in society. While there may be the fear of death, the criminal and any potential accomplices learn nothing from the experience. Criminals who are locked up in jail can potentially receive parole if they have the time to understand their flaws in reasoning and rejoin society. This change may not be all that common due to the inherent nature of hate crimes, but all options must be taken when the discussion involves real human lives. For example, the main criminal, in the Shepard case, Aaron McKinney is not allowed parole while his accomplice, Russell Henderson is due to his lesser involvement in the crime. The concept of one-for-one justice that these laws put forward may be equal in a sense, but good people should step above the bar set by murderers.

Finally, death for death only leads to a continuation of the system in place. Through the death sentence, we take the person’s life into the hands of the state and potentially make them a martyr for any future crime. Instead of the death sentence, jailing provides opportunity for growth and change into the future. It does not force average citizens to preside over the death of another individual. Through the death penalty on hate crimes, we force not only the jury presiding over the trial but also the judge involved and state employees to make the horrific decision on whether a living person should die.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as well as other similar ones, should not involve the death penalty. It goes against the laws’ founders’ original intent and leads to a cycle of death in which average citizens are forced to be involved. Instead of enforcing the death penalty, we should keep standard practices and find better solutions to halting the occurrence of hate crimes in the United States.

Post Author: Nathan Hinkle