Is it a Hate Crime?

Three lesbians are charged in a brutal assault of a gay man. But does it qualify as a hate crime?

Yesterday, a gay man, who’s not been identified, was viciously attacked on a subway in Boston, according to the Boston Herald. He was punched and kicked, police say, by three women who also allegedly used anti-gay slurs during the assault. He was “badly roughed up,” says one news report, including a broken nose.

Three lesbians have been charged in the crime, according to the police report. Two of the lesbians are partners, says the Herald, while the third is the sister of one of the women.

But this is not the typical hate crime – or is it?

The man who was attacked is claiming that his backpack grazed the women as he walked to the subway and that they became enraged and began calling him the “F” word and punching him, while the women claim the victim hurled racial slurs at them, including the “N” word. It’s a case of he said she/she/she said.

But it also begs the question: If gay people attack other gay people with anti-gay or racial slurs and violence, can the alleged assailants be charged with a hate crime?

“My guess is that no sane jury would convict them under those circumstances, but what this really demonstrates is the idiocy of the hate-crime legislation,” lawyer Harvey Silverglate told the Herald. “If you beat someone up, you’re guilty of assault and battery of a human being. Period. The idea of trying to break down human beings into categories is doomed to failure.”

We’re not so sure.

While hate crime legislation is designed to protect minorities from conflicts that arise because of things like gender identity, sexual orientation and race (it can vary depending on the crime), what’s to prevent the women from being prosecuted for attacking someone over his sexual identity which, in reality, differs from theirs. Last time we checked being a gay man was vastly different from being a lesbian.

On the other hand, critics have long questioned the validity of additional penalties to already heinous crimes that carry their own penalties. Killing someone, for instance, has a pretty dire set of probable outcomes – everything ranging from years in prison, to life to even the death penalty in many states. But if that same person convicted of murder is also charged with a hate crime, the ante is upped. Not everyone likes the idea – and not everyone will likely go along with charging one minority with a hate crime for attacking another within the same “community.”

But why shouldn’t hate crime protection include gay-on-gay crimes? If African-American persons were charged with beating a transgender person, for instance, they would likely face hate crime charges in addition to standard prosecutorial standards. But if a transgender person attacked an African-American person, would the same standard apply? And why wouldn’t hate crimes be applied to lesbians who attack a gay man or vice versa?

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office may end up agreeing with us if the case moves forward. A spokesperson has already said that orientation (alleged or otherwise) has no bearing on the case, which could set a precedent when it comes to gay-on-gay “hate” crimes.

Click here for a broadcast news report on the incident.

What do you think? Should the women be charged with a hate crime?