No Jail for Gay Bashers?

If the victims are OK with it, so am I. But it takes work.

Two of the people connected to the brutal assault against two gay men in Center City just accepted plea deals where they won’t serve any jail time. Instead, they’re going to be on probation, suffer exile from Center City during this period, and have to volunteer at an LGBT organization.

The idea is that mercy and dialogue is better than prison. That idea isn’t just spiritually sound: It’s also endorsed by the victims of the crime.

To be perfectly frank, the sentence doesn’t satisfy my personal desire to see the homophobes in physical or emotional pain. That’s OK, though. Resentment is a crummy fuel to run society’s engine. And, I guess we don’t torture people anymore.

It’s hard to stomach, though. I mean, I’ve been punched for being gay before, too. And, I’ve dealt with casual homophobia on Philly streets my entire life. I want it to stop. But, it’s never going to stop. Bigotry and ignorance can only be mitigated with free speech and dialogue – not eradicated by stomping “enlightened” boots on people’s faces.

This summer, I was walking by the bus stop at 12th and Walnut streets. Most of my peers in the Gayborhood had a skip in their step, and me, I walked with an outright spritely swish: Same-sex marriage was just legalized.

Two men were talking to each other at the bus stop. Unlike me, they weren’t terribly impressed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

“You hear this shit about marriage?” one man said to his compatriot.

“Sodom and Gomorrah, man,” his friend chortled. “Disgusting.”

I stopped for a second but then continued on my way, saying nothing. To get over it, I thought about how I’m likely much more successful than these two losers, and quickly the men at the bus stop didn’t seem so important.

Don’t take that coping mechanism as arrogance; frankly, a blob fish eating algae is more successful, spiritually speaking, than a bigot.

Still, their words hurt my feelings deeply. Honestly, I wanted to punch them in their stupid, disingenuously religious faces. They reminded me of that guy who called me a “faggot” and punched me in the face years ago.

I wanted to call them hypocrites, to make awful insinuations about their class status, to say hateful things to them, to hurt them.

If you will not recognize my pain, I shall inflict it unto you. If you threaten my existence, I will destroy yours. This is my built-in, visceral response to homophobia at all times. And, it’s the one I must deliberately overcome on a regular basis, because I encounter casual homophobia nearly every single day.

To be clear, I don’t move on from this toxic desire to hurt those who hurt me because I’m a good person. I move on because living in the past, cycling through that pain and sustaining it by inflicting pain on others, poisons my own spirit. It’s the only way I can stay sane and live a happy, healthy life – for myself.

Our city responded with outrage last year when Zachary Hesse and Andrew Haught were assaulted in Center City for being gay; we were rightly offended. It wasn’t casual or just verbal: It was heinous, violent, and brutal. Haught had his jaw wired shut for nearly two months after being brutalized.

Hesse and Haught were targeted simply for existing, with their attackers making vulgar inquiries about their sexuality prior to pouncing on the men.

Of the three individuals connected to that assault, Kevin Harrigan, Philip Williams, and Kathryn Knott, two of them, Harrigan and Williams, won’t be serving any jail time as part of the deal. Knott has rejected a plea deal from prosecutors and is taking her case to trial.

These three don’t just stand accused of beating Hesse and Haught. They’re also lily white suburban kids in grownup bodies, perfect emblems of everything wrong with society – privilege, ignorance, hatred, oppression all wrapped in suburban, Wonderbread packaging. Their mugshots disgust me: They look just like everyone whoever hurt me.

The problem is that they haven’t hurt me. Hesse and Haught are the victims here, not me. Sure, this act was an affront to our society’s values. But, that’s exactly why we have laws. And, because Hesse and Haught are the actual victims here, prosecutors have worked tirelessly to represent them and their interests alongside society’s.

District Attorney Seth Williams says that the seemingly light sentences for Harrigan and Philips aren’t just about justice but also “about honoring the wishes of the victims to make sure they can continue to heal and gain closure.”

Likewise, Caryn Kunkle, a family friend and spokeswoman for the victims, posted on Facebook that “the plea deals were offered by the victims in an effort to kickstart some mercy and education between these diverse communities by setting a peaceful precedent.” Kunkle even requested folks keep their “speech hate free and stay positive regarding #KathrynKnott.”

Many are outraged by the fact that Harrigan and Philips won’t be going to jail. These people apparently disagree with the wishes of the victims.

If you ask me, prosecutors and victims know a lot more about justice in this case than I do, particularly when I come from a place of resentment or pain and view the alleged perpetrators as symbols. And, if they’re saying that justice is being served, even without jail time for Harrigan or Philips, then so be it.

It is not my place to demand more. It has been my experience that a pound of flesh is never enough, either: It feeds my resentment, my pain, my toxicity to where I crave hurting others just as they hurt me.

We have the blessing of the victims here. We have the authority of the state behind us, too. It is time to move on.

And, if that’s not good enough for you, I don’t know what to tell you except this: Mercy is mostly about the grantor – not the recipient.

Follow @jawshkruger on Twitter.