I recently had the chance to interview Dr. Joe Wenke, an outspoken and articulate LGBTQ rights advocate, social critic, and observational satirist. Dr. Wenke is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and his recent commentary about hate crime laws drew a strong response from those both for and against hate crime laws. I typically focus on scams, but this topic definitely fits into any discussion about crime, so I decided to include it here.
Wenke believes that our laws reflect our values. He said, “As a society we need to stand up against hate. We need to do everything we can to deter and punish it. Most haters who assault or murder people out of hatred for the group they belong to would not commit the crimes of assault or murder to steal a wallet. They’re not muggers or thieves intent on stealing something of monetary value from another human being. They don’t care about your wallet. They want to beat the crap out of you or kill you because you’re black or Islamic or gay or transgendered. Their violent crime is not a means to an end—getting your wallet–but an end in and of itself—namely, getting you. If they are deterred from acting out their hatred, they are unlikely ever to engage in a violent criminal act at all.”
The responses to Wenke’s commentary were often highly opinionated and could make anyone second-guess their commitment. He said, “It’s not part of my makeup to feel that way, although, like everyone, I do get discouraged at times. I also get angry at the hatred that is directed at LGBTQ people in the name of religion. Most of all I feel afraid for people who are targeted by haters because of who they are. Personally, I fear for people I love who are in those groups. I worry about them every day.”
With a vocal minority on both sides of the issue, the question is which way is public opinion headed? Toward strengthening or weakening hate crime laws? Wenke said, “I think it could go either way. There is a lot of opposition to hate crime laws and a lot of reasons why people oppose the laws. Some people argue that hate crime laws are unnecessary or redundant. They’re not. We need to impose additional penalties on people who commit violent crimes against people because of the groups they belong to, groups that have been historically discriminated against and targeted.
“Some people argue against hate crime laws because they say that there is no proof that they deter. Well, we don’t repeal laws because people violate them or because we can’t prove their deterrent value. If we did, we’d have almost no laws on the books.
“People who oppose hate crime laws are very vocal. All of us who know how important hate crime laws are need to speak out and help ensure that they remain in force while also advocating for continuing education against hatred and bigotry and in favor of freedom and equality for all people.”
Wenke noted how difficult life becomes for victims of hate crimes. He said “When you are a victim of any violent crime, it’s a life-changing experience. You feel vulnerable. You feel at risk. You feel disempowered. It’s even more devastating if you weren’t the victim of a random attack but were targeted because of who you are.”
So how can people who have been targeted avoid becoming a victim? Wenke said, “I think the only thing that people can do is to stand up and refuse to be victimized. We all need to speak out and to be advocates, to be activists. We need to pursue activism as an act of survival and as a way of validating our humanity and renewing our self-esteem.” He added, “Haters are committed to their hatred. We need to be even more committed to combating their hatred and to promoting freedom and equality throughout our country. Those are our values. We need to defend them.”