Hate crimes merit federal action

October 16, 1998

CHICAGO — An excerpt of a Chicago Tribune editorial that was published yesterday

An excerpt of a Chicago Tribune editorial that was published yesterday: MATTHEW Shepard, a 105-pound, 5-foot 2-inch, soft-spoken wisp of a kid, couldn't have been much of a threat to anyone. Yet he had been assaulted twice in recent months and last week he was pistol-whipped, strung up spread-eagle against a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. He died five days later.

It's an inconceivable crime that yet cries out for an explanation. The likely cause of the assault was not anything Shepard did, but what he was -- gay, and openly so.

To some it's a trait so threatening as to merit not only condemnation and social ostracism, but, as in this case, even a savage beating.

No amount of legislation will change such twisted thinking overnight. But a bipartisan proposal to strengthen already existing federal statutes against hate crimes -- primarily to extend protections to women, homosexuals and the disabled -- can begin the long process of establishing in the public mind that such intimidation and terrorism against certain groups cannot be tolerated.

Indeed, protection against such crimes, which terrorize far beyond the places where they happen, should not depend on geography or jurisdiction. That's why a federal law is justified. JTC What happened to Matthew Shepard, and other, lesser forms of hate-inspired harassment, must not be tolerated anywhere in the United States.

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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