The Sexist

Actually, They Do Lock You Up For That

Commenters eager to debate the merits of hate-crime legislation have got a new local case over which to mull:

District resident Anthony Wright, 42, has been found guilty of "Bias-Related Simple Assault and Bias Threats To Do Bodily Harm" for harassing and threatening a neighbor over a period of two years. The harassment, which centered on his neighbor's sexual orientation, culminated in Wright attacking his neighbor outside his home, threatening to stab him, and then telling him, "They don't lock you up for hitting faggots."

The details, from District anti-hate crime group Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV):

WASHINGTON DC, May 7, 2010 — A DC Superior Court jury found 42-year-old DC resident Anthony Wright guilty of Bias-Related Simple Assault and Bias Threats To Do Bodily Harm in a June 6, 2009 assault against an elderly man in SE Washington. Wright repeated threats to the same victim on August 27, 2009.

The USDOJ chronicled two years of a nearly constant barrage of name calling and harassment the 67-year-old gay man was subjected to by his neighbor which eventually escalated into an unprovoked attack in front of neighbors and friends on June 6, 2009. Wright was quickly released but continued to harass the victim, proclaiming, "They don't lock you up for hitting faggots."

On August 27, 2009 Wright confronted the victim in his own home and threatened to stab him and was again arrested. Wright was found guilty on both counts on April 28, 2010 and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 12, 2010.

While GLOV commends the work of the USDOJ and MPD to bring the hate crime charges forward successfully, we are anxious to see that Wright recives the maximum penalty for his egregious crimes and for the suffering he caused his victim to endure for so long.

  • scott

    ...can't wait to see the comments on this one...

  • gita

    i'm totally with you, scott. this is going to be... interesting.

  • Bill

    Heterosexual douchebaggery at its finest!

  • TJ

    If there were any question as to the importance of anti-hate laws and legislation...

    “They don’t lock you up for hitting faggots.”

    Well, he's learning about how false that statement is, isn't he?

  • kza

    That dude put a lot of effort into his homophobia. What a fun hobby.

  • scary joann

    Huh. That same line was once screamed at my brother as the jocks beat the hell out of him with their coach's consent.

  • Kit-Kat

    I'm really happy that this guy was convicted, and I'm not at all in favor of hate crimes, so before anyone starts hurling insults, I just want to make it clear that I oppose bigotry, racism, and hate crimes. I do, however, find this issue both interesting and troubling, and I am trying to make sense of it. I'm open to persuasion, but as it is, I'm still on the fence about hate crimes legislation that does not require an intent element, as opposed to a prejudice element.

    Wright could have been convicted of assault and threats without the hate crimes bill. That law does not create any new crimes; it just increases the maximum penalty that the judge may, but is not required to, apply to existing crimes. DC has similar sentencing enhancements for crimes committed against persons over 60, minors, taxicab drivers, citizen patrol, and transit workers.

    The bias crimes law permits a judge to impose a higher sentence in cases where the defendant commits a bias-related crime. "'Bias-related crime' means a designated act that demonstrates an accused's prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibility, homelessness, physical disability, matriculation, or political affiliation of a victim of the subject designated act." That list is actually impressively comprehensive, actually. The only things I can think of offhand that it does not include is occupation (one can imagine that prostitutes might be targets of violence as a result of their work, for example) and mental disability (which seems a rather odd omission, given that physical disability is included).

    There is no requirement that the defendant have committed these crimes with the intent to intimidate or threaten anyone in the group other than the specific victim, merely that the crime demonstrate that the defendant is prejudiced. In other words, you are punished more severely because of how you think.

    Is that because we assume that anyone who attacks someone because they are, say, homeless, automatically intends to intimidate other homeless people, or because we think it is worse to attack someone because they are homeless than to attack the same person for other reasons? Is it because we assume that crimes committed against persons because they are, say, GWU students, are more terrifying to other GWU students that crimes committed against GWU students for other reasons?

    By the way, there are no enhanced penalties for crimes of domestic violence.

  • Amanda Hess

    I don't have a personal opinion on whether hate crimes should be punished with more severe sentences, though I do think it's very important that police departments be required to code crimes this way and report statistics on them.

    That being said, punishment for crimes is already based almost entirely on what the perpetrator is thinking. That's why we differentiate between crimes like involuntary mansluaghter, voluntary manslaughter, second-degree murder, and first-degree murder. The perpetrator killed someone in all of these instances. Hate-bias legislation punishes another way that perpetrators think.

  • Kit-Kat

    Amanda, it's true that intent is important in many crimes, but motive is not (there is no crime that has motive as an element that I can think of). It might seem like a rather fine distinction, but legally it's very important. Intent doesn't have anything to do with *why* the defendant acted as he did. It has to do with whether the defendant acted knowingly and deliberately. Some crimes don't even have a specific intent element.

    The homicide distinctions aren't really about "what the perp was thinking," but more about the degree to which the killing was intentional (first degree murder v. involuntary manslaughter), the amount of planning and premeditation (first v. second degree) or whether there is some kind of mitigating factor (voluntary manslaughter). Motive is not the thing that distinguishes the different kind of murder, although it might help establish that someone acted intentionally.

    That said, I absolutely agree that coding and reporting hate crimes is important. As with domestic violence, for example, it's crucial for a jurisdiction to have a handle on these things and understand the nature of the violent crimes that are occurring.

  • Charlie

    In Virginia you can be charged with the crime of "wearing a mask in public". (I know this because a friend in college was charged with this as the result of an alcohol-fueled prank.) The penalty for this is up to five years in prison.

    It seems this law was enacted as a way to counteract the action of the KKK.
    I was reminded of this watching a public hearing about proposed legislation to counteract the actions of animal rights activists in DC. There is a proposed law to bar repeated protests outside the homes of citizens in DC with the intent of disturbing the tranquility of those inside. One of the questions posed by Mary Cheh (constitutional scholar that she is) was that instead of barring protests could DC just make wearing a mask in public a crime?

    Even though no one is physically hurt by wearing a mask I expect most people would not object to a law that counteracts terrorizing African-Americans in their homes. But how about protecting people who do animal research or who work for meat-industry associations? Or gay people?

    It should be noted that there are gay people uncomfortable with the concept of hate crimes legislation.

  • Mrs. D

    I do think that you're on to part of the intent of hate-crimes legislation, Kit-Kat. When someone attacks someone else because of some intrinsic characteristic, they are, in some way at the very least, inflicting terror on that whole group. It wouldn't matter WHICH gay person lived near Mr. Wright, or WHICH gay person happened to cross his path, he would have assaulted them just because they were gay. Therefore, just being gay and in the proximity of Mr. Wright set the stage for being attacked, which is terrifying to the group under attack. I don't know who Mr. Wright is, what if I accidentally crossed his path, and he thought I was gay (or I was gay)?

    I think a part of it, too, is making the punishment fit the crime. If you jump someone because they stole your girlfriend or insulted your mother or belonged to a rival gang, at least there was some logic to it, something that someone else DID (as opposed to WAS), that provoked the attack, and, in the absence of instigation, it won't happen again. Being jailed/fined/given community service also tells the perpetrator that the response to that provocation was not appropriate. However, if you attack someone for just being themselves, for just dating a person of the same sex or being a woman or being Latino, there's a stronger message that needs to be sent against that, both to the perpetrator and to the community at large. You are not entitled to commit a crime against someone else because of WHO THEY ARE or HOW THEY LIVE THEIR LIFE. While not totally effective, as it's my experience that NOTHING will get through to irrational bigots, it at least sets a community standard that committing crimes against people because of who they are is NOT okay.

  • Valkyrie607

    Mrs. D. said it. When a person attacks someone simply because of his/her sexual orientation, race, gender, whatever, they are not only hurting the person they attacked. They are also sending a message to other members of that group that, hey, you better lay low/stay closeted because if you don't, you too could be attacked. It's intimidation directed at the entire group.

  • Aaron

    "But how about protecting people who do animal research..."

    ...because all animal research is black-garbed Mary Kay operatives cackling evilly as they cruelly drip mascara into the innocent eyes of cute widdle baby bunnies, oh yes. After all, everyone who does animal research is just a vicious sadist, right? There's no other reason to go into the field, right? No one who didn't get off on cruelty and inflicting pain would ever be involved in such a morally bereft occupation, right?

    Leave that aside, though, Charlie -- are you suggesting that there's ever a good reason for someone in a supposedly civilized society to have to deal with a mob on his doorstep? Would you like to explain why you think that's a good idea? I'm all ears.

  • Charlie

    @Aaron -"Leave that aside, though, Charlie — are you suggesting that there’s ever a good reason for someone in a supposedly civilized society to have to deal with a mob on his doorstep? Would you like to explain why you think that’s a good idea? I’m all ears."

    No, that is not what I am suggesting. I was trying to suggest just that opposite.

  • DanceDreaming

    An interesting note Kit-Kat. Intent -is- a part of some crimes. But not all. Often result is the main interest of the law, though obviously not always. If such acts result in terror, then informing the public that they do and will be punished accordingly, via such a law, makes sense. The law sends the message, informs of what the results will be, and punishes.

    Because such crimes -do- send a message. They tell every member of that group that they must be afraid. That they could be next, simply for being part of a marginalized group.

  • chris

    Amanda, thank you for posting this.