Archive for the '(in)justice system' Category

ACTION ALERT: Supreme Court rejects Troy Davis’ appeal; urgent action needed to save Troy’s life

UPDATE: Check below for info on the Oct 23 rally in NYC.

After granting Troy Anthony Davis a stay of execution on September 23 in order to decide whether or not to consider his case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal last Tuesday. Georgia has scheduled Davis’ execution for 7pm on October 27, 2008 – next Monday, one week from today.

(Click here to skip to ways to take action over the coming week to save Davis’ life.)

I’ve been meaning to blog about this news since hearing it last Tuesday, but I think I’ve been avoiding writing about it until today. Troy Davis’ case has really gotten to me; over the past week it’s been difficult to think, talk, or try to write about his situation with beginning to cry. I know it’s important to stay hopeful and keep fighting, but it’s been difficult to muster much hope. This case has only decreased my already minimal faith in getting any true justice out of the American system. It defies logic that so many judicial bodies, right up through the U.S. Supreme Court, have failed to step in and assert that even just a shadow of a doubt should be enough to prevent an ultimate and immutable sentence of death from being carried out. In this case, with seven out of nine non-police witnesses recanting their testimony, far more than a shadow of doubt has been cast – and yet all of these authorities that have had the opportunity to intercede seem content to let this man die.

In trying to understand what twisted logic or legal technicality the U.S. Supreme Court followed in denying review of Davis’ case, I turned to SCOTUS Blog for further details and analysis. Unfortunately, they reported that “in denying review on Tuesday, the Supreme Court gave no explanation, as is its custom with such denials.” SCOTUS Blog also supplied this rather disturbing information:

In appealing to the Supreme Court, Davis’ lawyers urged the Court to issue a definitive ruling — something it had only assumed previously — that the Eighth Amendment creates a right of an innocent person not to be executed.

In this country that claims such civility and advanced morality, it hasn’t even been officially established that one has the right to not be executed if they are innocent. It boggles the mind.

But despite the daunting odds against Troy Davis, despite how utterly Davis and his supporters have been let down by just about every institution that purports to deliver justice in this nation, we can’t just let ourselves be sickened to the point that we give up hope and thereby give up the fight. Troy Davis is only one person, only one life out of the many lives on the brink on death row, but his life is essential, his life is precious, and his life demands a continued struggle. The disgust and disbelief and frustration that we feel at what’s happened in Davis’ case so far must be channeled intensely over the next week so that we might save his life and pave the way to saving many more lives in the future.


Remember: this isn’t only about saving Troy Davis’ life; this is also about making sure that no one else ever finds themselves in the situation that he’s in. If you have time to take action in any or all of these ways this week, please do.

Cross-posted at Feministe

Update: U.S. Supreme Court stays the execution of Troy Anthony Davis

After scanning the news over and over again all day hoping for good news but fearing it wouldn’t come, late this afternoon I was relieved to read that the U.S. Supreme Court had granted Troy Anthony Davis a stay of execution. The stay came only hours before he was scheduled to be killed by the state of Georgia.

However, it’s not time to rejoice just yet. This is only a temporary stay until Monday, when the Court will decide whether to hear the case. If they decide not to – as they usually have in cases like these – then the stay is immediately terminated, meaning that Davis could be executed as early as next week.

I don’t know what action can be taken to try to convince the Supreme Court to do what is rational and right and at least agree to hear the case and the new evidence that casts more than a shadow of a doubt on Davis’ conviction, but if Amnesty International or Davis’ family and supporters put out any calls to action, I’ll be sure to post them here.

ACTION ALERT: Amnesty International’s call to support Troy Davis

As I wrote last week, Troy Davis was denied clemency last week by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole and is scheduled to be executed on September 23, next Tuesday, despite the tremendous amount of doubt that surrounds his conviction. Besides the Board of Pardons and Parole, the only entity that can stop the execution is the US Supreme Court. However, Amnesty International sent out an action alert today that states that the Board of Pardons and Parole can still reconsider its decision:

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles gave no reason for its denial of Troy Davis’ clemency petition, yet Board members do have the authority to reconsider their decision. On July 16, 2007, the Board did stay Troy Davis’ execution, stating that it would “not allow an execution to proceed in this State unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused” (emphasis added).

The failure of courts to hear the compelling evidence of innocence in this case means that massive doubts about Troy Davis’ guilt will remain unresolved.

Amnesty International is asking that people send emails and letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole urging that they reconsider their decision in the face of the considerable doubt cast upon Troy Davis’ guilt. Please take a few moments to do this; this may be one of the last chances that Troy Davis has to escape being murdered unjustly by the state.

Update: Troy Davis denied clemency, faces execution on Sept 23

UPDATE: I am shocked, angered, disgusted and saddened to say that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole has denied Troy Davis clemency or commutation of his death sentence. (see here and here for articles). This, despite the fact that there was no physical evidence implicating him and seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him have recanted their testimony. This is horrifying. It is also crystal clear evidence for why the death penalty is an immoral and inhumane system that shouldn’t be allowed to continue. How could anyone argue that an ultimate, immutable punishment should ever be applied when you have such an abundance of reasonable doubt and such a dearth of credible evidence? And while this is an extraordinarily wrong case, we have to assume that there are many, many other instances of people being convicted, sentenced, and executed under similarly dubious, uncertain circumstances. It is unacceptable.

At this point, Davis’ only hope is that the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes. With our current Supreme Court, I worry for the chances of that happening; to make matters worse, the Court is currently recessed and may not even get around to hearing the case before Davis’ execution date, which is set for September 23 at 7pm. (end update)

Last July, I wrote asking people to call and demand clemency for Troy Davis, a man sentenced to death in Georgia. He was convicted in 1991 of murdering an off-duty police officer, but as I wrote last year, “the case against him was comprised entirely of witness testimony, which even at the time of the trial contained inconsistencies. Since the trial, seven out of nine of the non-police prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony.” (See my previous post for more details on the case.)

Davis was granted a stay of execution last July less than 24 hours before he was to be killed. However, as reports, “the Georgia Supreme Court and US Supreme Court have refused to hear new evidence in the case — ensuring that doubts about his guilt will always remain.” put out this call to action via email today:

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles is meeting today to decide Troy Davis’ fate. Can you call them right now and ask them to spare his life? Call (404) 651-6599 and tell them you are for clemency or commutation for Troy Davis because you don’t want Georgia to make the mistake of executing an innocent man.

Once you’ve called, please let us know by sending an email to Then, please pass this on to your friends and family–Troy Davis needs all the help he can get.

I made my call a little while ago; it takes only one or two minutes to tell them that you’re calling to ask for clemency or commutation of Davis’ sentence. Please try to spare a few minutes today to help save Davis from an unjust, inhumane death.

The execution of Jose Ernesto Medellin: another American middle finger raised at international law

Recently I decided to read the work of Noam Chomsky for the first time, beginning with Hegemony or Survival. I’m a few chapters in now, and one of the points that Chomsky makes is that the United States continues to show blatant disregard and even contempt for international law and institutions such as the United Nations. Chomsky focuses on the start of the war in Iraq in defiance of the Security Council and the UN in general as one of the United States’ most stark dismissals of international law, but also details similar dismissals with regards to other military engagements. He asserts that this is part and parcel of larger project of the United States, which reserves “the right to resort to force to eliminate any perceived challenge to US global hegemony, which is to be permanent.”

For people paying attention, the US’ disregard for international law – as shown through its preemptive strikes, its dismissals of the Geneva Conventions with regards to torture, its secret renditions, and its snubbing of a litany of treaties and agreements – has been worrisome for a long time. As Chomsky asserts, “when the UN fails to serve as ‘an instrument of American unilateralism’ … it is dismissed.” Essentially, the government of the United States believes that it can do whatever the hell it wants, with a big middle finger raised towards any other nation or international organization that calls it on its murderous, imperialistic bullshit. Or, as John Bolton, our illustrious former UN ambassador, put it: “There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States.”

So when I read this morning about the Texas execution of a Mexican citizen convicted of murder, the story fit right into the larger pattern of the United States’ perception of itself as supreme. Jose Ernesto Medellin, convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of two teenage girls, was executed Tuesday night despite an order from the International Court of Justice at the Hague to halt the executions of Mexican citizens on Texas’ death row. From the LA Times article:

The International Court of Justice in The Hague sided in 2004 with the Mexican government’s argument that the United States had violated the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to inform the arrested Mexican nationals of their right to seek help from the Mexican Consulate.

Mexico has asked that all 51 convictions be reviewed, creating the possibility for new trials or outright dismissals. The Hague court had ordered the United States not to execute any of five men on death row in Texas while the court reviewed their cases.

But the court, a branch of the United Nations, has no power to enforce its rulings. A spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, has said that “the world court has no standing in Texas.”

Emphasis added, because the statement so clearly crystallizes not only the attitude of the state of Texas, but of the United States as a whole. Surprisingly enough, the Bush administration attempted to intervene and halt the executions: “Mr Bush wrote a two-paragraph memorandum to the Department of Justice saying Texas courts must obey the ICJ ruling and review Mr Medellín’s conviction and sentence to determine whether his rights were violated because he was not allowed to contact his consulate.” However, as the LA Times reports, “the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the administration’s arguments, ruling 6-3 that under the Constitution, the president did not have the ‘unilateral authority’ to compel state officials to comply with an international treaty.”

Interesting. So the President seems to have unilateral authority to do all sorts of awful things, but not when it comes to enforcing international law? I suppose this makes sense, though; after all, why should individual states not follow the example of the larger nation in its utter disregard for the rule of international law? In these executions, Texas is only applying the precedent that the US government has demonstrated time and time again: the United States can do what it wants, and fuck the rest of the world if they complain.

The LA Times reports that “Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International contend that executing foreign citizens in opposition to the court order could put U.S. citizens abroad at risk of being convicted and even executed for crimes without having access to U.S. consulates or embassies.” Jeffrey Davidow, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, expands upon that:

So we now find ourselves on the brink of an irrevocable violation of the most important treaty governing consular assistance for our citizens detained in other countries. A failure to comply with this most basic of treaty commitments would significantly impair the ability of our diplomats and leaders to protect the interests — individual and collective — of Americans abroad. Were the tables turned — American citizens arrested abroad and denied consular access, with an ICJ judgment requiring review of those cases for prejudice, and another nation refusing to comply — our leaders would rightly demand that compliance be forthcoming.

Unfortunately, as the United States continues to flout international law, other nations might not be so interested in extending favor to us that they do not get from us. And why should they? Why should other nations not be allowed to exercise their sovereignty just as the United States does? Oh, that’s right: it’s because the people in power in this nation believe in the Rule of Might over the Rule of Law, and the United States just happens to have the biggest guns.

After 20 years’ fight, expanded domestic violence law in NY state

Twenty years ago, Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein of Brooklyn introduced legislation that would expand protections for victims of domestic and intimate partner violence in New York state. After reintroducing similar legislation every year since, the Fair Access bill has finally passed in the state legislature and will soon be signed into law by Governor David Paterson. From the NY Times:

The new law would make it possible for people in dating relationships, heterosexual or gay, to seek protection from abusers in family court. As it stands, New York has one of the narrowest domestic violence laws in the country, allowing for civil protection orders only against spouses or former spouses, blood relations or the other parent of an abused person’s child …

“New York lagged behind all the other states in the Northeast in terms of addressing orders of protection,” the governor said. “We expanded the coverage to include what we would consider to be intimate relationships. They do not have to be sexual. Theoretically, it could be two people who are dating and haven’t had sex. They’ve come close, one refuses the other and then the stalking starts.”

Advocacy groups say that current law has deterred teenagers and gay men and women from seeking protection from abusers, because their only recourse is the criminal courts. Getting an order of protection in criminal court requires reporting abuse to the police, the arrest of the alleged abuser, and the cooperation of a prosecutor.

Civil protection orders in family court accept a lower burden of proof and do not require police involvement, and an accuser can be represented by a lawyer and not have to rely on a prosecutor.

This is an incredibly important development. My partner works as a lawyer representing victims of domestic and intimate partner violence and has frequently voiced her frustration and anger at the lack of recourse available to clients whose relationships with their abusers do not fall within the incredibly narrow requirements of the current law.

These limitations do work against many adults in heterosexual relationships – as it stands, the law only allows orders of protection “against spouses or former spouses, blood relations or the other parent of an abused person’s child,” excluding a vast swath of intimate and domestic relationships of any sexuality – but they also tend to severely limit the options for queer people and teenagers, as the NY Times article points out. Both populations are particularly vulnerable to domestic and intimate partner violence, both because of the lack of options and because of the lack of awareness that this violence happens all too frequently to teens and queer people.

A survey released on Tuesday reveals that “sixty-nine percent of teens who had sex by age 14 reported some type of abuse in a relationship, with slightly more than one-third saying they had been physically abused.” That is one horrifying statistic. And safer sex education isn’t the only thing that’s severely lacking; education about abuse in relationships is also missing, and the results are clearly damaging, as the CNN article states: “Despite the number of teens and tweens who say they have experienced abuse or say they know someone who has, only about 51 percent say they are aware of the warning signs of hurtful dating relationship.”

Intimate partner violence is also a serious problem in the LGBTQ community, but one that frequently goes overlooked and unreported. People tend to think of domestic violence as resulting from clearly gendered power dynamics, with abusers tending to be men and victims tending to be women. And though it is true that sexism and misogyny create a society in which this is true, that doesn’t mean that the gender dynamic is always the same in instances of domestic and intimate partner violence. We can’t pretend that same-sex relationships create instant equality, eliminate power dynamics and erase the chance of intimate partner violence. That only serves to limit the resources available to LGBTQ survivors of abuse and force them into silence and even shame. The LGBTQ community must recognize that this is a problem for us as much as it’s a problem for straight people, and we must respond as a community by acknowledging and condemning abuse and supporting survivors.

I hope that the passage of legislation like the Fair Access bill will help LGBTQ, youth, and other survivors of abuse not only by giving them more recourse for protection from their abusers but by also bringing attention to the problems of abuse in these communities. Tremendous thanks to Assemblywoman Weinstein and all of the domestic violence advocates, including my partner, who have fought this twenty year battle to win protections that should have existed as a no-brainer in the first place.

cross-posted at Feministe

Convictions overturned for 2 of the Newark 4

Free the New Jersey 4 Two of the four young Black lesbians who were convicted after defending themselves from a homophobic attack in 2007 have had their convictions overturned. From the New York Times article:

An appeals court on Thursday overturned the convictions of two women accused in the beating and stabbing of a man who they said made unwanted sexual advances to them in Greenwich Village two years ago.

One of the women, Terrain Dandridge, whom a jury found guilty of second-degree gang assault, had her conviction reversed and indictment dismissed; as a result she can no longer be tried on those charges. A four-judge panel of the Appellate Division in Manhattan ruled that there was not enough evidence to support a guilty verdict for Ms. Dandridge. She had been sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The second woman, Renata Hill, who was found guilty of second-degree gang assault and third-degree assault, had her gang assault conviction vacated, but she can be retried on the charge. The court ruled that the judge’s instructions to the jury on the charge were erroneous and that therefore her conviction could not be upheld.

She was sentenced to eight years in prison, but if the Manhattan district attorney decides against further prosecution, she is likely to be released because the maximum penalty for the third-degree assault is a year and she has already been in prison longer than that.

Alexis Agathocleous, the lawyer who handled Ms. Hill’s appeal, said he was pleased and was hoping “that the district attorney’s office will also do the right thing and dismiss the remaining charge.”

The appeals for Patreese Johnson and Venice Brown are still pending, but let’s hope that they’re as or more successful than these. I also hope that, as Agathocleous says, the DA will do the right thing and drop these sham charges.

Kenyon Farrow and Jonathan Adams at Racewire both point out that in addition to the lawyers and families who have been working so hard to see justice done here, there are some awesome organizations that deserve hearty congratulations and continued support: FIERCE, Human Rights Watch, Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

Also: while some elements of the NY media had a field day tearing these women apart when they were on trial, calling them things like “killer lesbians,” “a wolf pack of lesbians,” and a “seething sapphic septet,” they’ve been remarkably quiet about the overturned convictions so far. Funny, that. We should probably be thankful for that, though; one can only imagine what sort of fucked-up things they’d say if they did take up the story.

Edited to add: More info from the Free the NJ 4 blog. Their press release is definitely recommended reading.

cross-posted at Feministe

Examining the justice that we seek

Thanks to Margarita for helping me talk and think and rethink through these issues today.

Like the other people I know with politics similar to mine, I was angry when I heard about the verdict in the Sean Bell case this morning. And I’m still angry, for sure. I still feel like justice has been controverted yet again. I still feel like a few sad messages have been reinforced by the verdict: that the lives of people of color are given little worth in our society; that the “justice” system is of little use for many classes of people, including people of color; and that the police pretty much have a carte blanche when dealing with people of color, amongst other oppressed people.

However, I’ve also had time to do a lot of thinking and talking about the case, the verdict, what “we” (me, my friends, others with politics like mine) would have liked to see happen today, and what that all means. And it’s really complicated stuff.

I was reminded of this complication when I saw this picture of the cops who killed Sean Bell in the NY Times:

Since the shootings in 2006 and throughout the subsequent trial, I’ve found it jarring to be reminded that two of the three cops being charged in relation the incident are people of color. It’s almost as if that detail gets lost for me in the bigger picture of the case and I need to be reminded of it again and again. When I saw this picture this morning, it troubled me more than usual, because it made me realize that I was angry that three people, two of whom are men of color, are not going to prison.

I’m not used to being in that position.

If all of the cops being tried for the shootings were white, I think that my anger over the verdict would have been much more clear cut. I would have interrogated it far less. It would been black and white, quite literally; another case of white cops working within a racist police department taking the life of an innocent Black man. If they were convicted and sent to jail, I wouldn’t have shed a tear for them. If they were acquitted, I would have been enraged.

But feeling anger over the acquittal of two men of color? Yeah – that’s a weird spot for me to be in. Probably in part because that doesn’t happen very often; usually the story is the other way around and I’m getting angry over people of color being unfairly convicted and sent to prison. I don’t believe that imprisonment is the answer to any of society’s ills; in fact, for the most part I believe in prison abolition. As has been demonstrated many times, including some reports that have received a bit of public attention, the United States imprisons an appalling amount of people, and the vast majority of those people being imprisoned are people of color and poor folks.

And then there’s this case. Three cops shooting three unarmed men of color and killing one of them with 50 bullets. Two men of color on the trial for shooting three other men of color and killing one of them. Two men of color acquitted, one dead.

In a situation like this, where and how could we possibly find justice?

This is the crux of the problem: the situation is framed within a system that is so completely fucked up to the point that little good could possibly come out of it. Our ability to achieve justice is limited by the fact that the only recourses for justice available in our society are inherently unjust. So instead, we’re left grasping for approximations of justice that will invariably be unsatisfactory in the end.

Many of the organizations involved in the People’s Justice coalition – ALP, FIERCE! and SRLP among them – do not believe that imprisonment equals justice. Some of the organizations are explicitly abolitionist. And yet the emails and web postings coming from these organizations and their members about the protest at the Queens D.A.’s office, a protest that was planned no matter what the verdict wound up being, today all began with the news that all three cops were acquitted. One can only infer that these organizations don’t think that was the right verdict. Like me, these organizations are taking a stance that seems to conflict with their larger politics.

But what are we supposed to do? In this society, we take what justice we can get. A guilty verdict in this case would have sent the message that no, it is not all right for the NYPD to shoot and kill unarmed people of color with abandon, that yes,Sean Bell’s life and the lives of other people of color are worth more than that, that no, the NYPD can’t kill and injure and oppress with impunity and walk away scott free. The family of Sean Bell would have felt like someone was truly being held accountable for the murder of their son, their brother, their husband-to-be, their father.

And yet, a conviction would still be no more than an approximation of justice. First, because nothing that could possibly be done could make up for Sean Bell’s death. Second, because these three cops aren’t really the problem. Imprisoning them wouldn’t suddenly make the NYPD stop being the racist, classist, homophobic and transphobic force that it’s been for its entire existence. These three cops would take the fall, but the system that shaped them, trained them, set them up to fear and distrust and undervalue people of color – that system would emerge relatively unscathed. And in the end, two more men of color (and one white guy who’s probably not terribly high on the white male scale of privilege else he wouldn’t be a cop) would be in jail. All of that doesn’t add up to justice to me.

But we’re still angry, and we’re right to be. There is no justice here, not even a conflicted approximation of justice. What little recourse we have for achieving justice, flawed as it may be, has failed us yet again. And what’s perhaps most galling is that, time and time again, it fails us in the opposite direction. This tremendous “burden of proof” that the judge didn’t think the prosecution met in this case so often seems to disappear when the defendants are poor people of color who aren’t cops and don’t have the protection and support afforded to Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper. If Isnora and Cooper weren’t cops and the same scene had played out that night, I’m pretty sure that both of them would be in jail already (and most of us probably wouldn’t have ever heard about it.)

no justice. none.

Reactions outside of the courthouse
Reactions outside of the courthouse. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The cops who murdered Sean Bell have been acquitted of all charges. I would say that it’s unbelievable, but it’s not. It’s all too believable, but no less shocking and appalling.

There may be civil, federal or departmental charges filed against the cops, and those cases may wind up approximating some sort of justice. But in truth, justice could never be served in this case, even if these officers had been convicted on all charges. Nothing could possibly make up for another life taken by the NYPD.

A protest has been organized by the People’s Justice coalition for 5:30pm today at the Queens district attorney’s office. I will probably get my ass out there (ETA: didn’t make it) but admit that I am nervous about it; hopefully the cops will be held in check because of the nature of the case and the protests, but one never knows. We can’t let the police scare us into silence and submission, but be careful, folks.

Sanesha Stewart, Lawrence King, and why hate crimes legislation won’t help

I’ve been out of town and subsequently out of touch for a while now, visiting El Paso with my partner to meet her incomprehensibly adorable two-week-old nephew. But in the midst of the happiness that babies and family and vacation bring, two pieces of tragic news have weighed heavily on my mind. Both of them demonstrate how dangerous and hostile a world this is for people who are trans and gender non-conforming.

On February 10, Sanesha Stewart, a young trans woman of color, was brutally murdered in her apartment in the Bronx. This is tragic and deeply saddening in and of itself, and part of a frightening and enduring pattern of violence against trans people. But because of this woman’s identities – trans, woman, person of color, low income – the tragedy doesn’t end with her death and the grief of those who knew and loved her. Instead, the mainstream media, specifically the Daily News, has managed to add to the tragedy with grossly disrespectful and transphobic journalism – if such garbage can even be called journalism. This, too, is part of a pattern, one that I’ve written about before. And yet, every time I read another disgustingly transphobic article, I’m still shocked and appalled that some media sources will stoop so low. Even in death, even after having been murdered, trans people are given no respect and are treated as less than human.

In an eloquent and resonating post on Feministe, Holly posits a world in which Sanesha Stewart’s murder would be treated with respect for the victim and a cold eye for the killer, then contrasts that with the lurid reality:

There was no respect and no cold eye, none at all. I must be imagining some completely different universe where young trans women of color aren’t automatically treated like human trash. Where we all live, business as usual is to make a lot of comments about what the murder victim dressed like and looked like, reveal what her name was before she changed it, automatically assume she’s getting paid for sex, and to make excuses for the alleged killer.

Only days after Sanesha was murdered, Lawrence King, a 15-year-old, openly gay, gender non-conforming junior high schooler was shot in the head and killed by Brandon McInerney, a fellow classmate, a 14-year-old boy. McInerney has been charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime, for which he could face a sentence of 24 years to life with an additional three years because of the hate crime status.

It’s mind-boggling. Mind-boggling that someone so young could be so severely punished for simply being himself; mind-boggling that someone so young could have so much hatred or anger inside of him that he could kill another kid. Or, as Holly suggests in another post, that perhaps McInerney was not acting out of simple hatred:

I fear the worst — and the worst would not just be that some homophobic asshole killed a child. There’s an even worse worst: that a child is dead, and the other child who pulled the trigger did so because he couldn’t deal with his own feelings. And now that second child will be tried as an adult, and another life destroyed.

When crimes like the murders of Lawrence King and Sanesha Stewart occur, I often hear queer and trans advocates call for strong hate crimes legislation. In a statement from the Human Rights Campaign about King’s murder (mind you, I doubt the HRC would ever release any statement about Stewart’s murder), Joe Solomnese reiterated this demand:

While California’s residents are fortunate to have state laws that provide some protection against hate crimes and school bullying, this pattern of violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students is repeated too often in schools and communities across America each day. This tragedy illustrates the need to pass a federal hate crimes law to ensure everyone is protected against violent, bias-motivated crimes, wherever they reside.

I disagree with this response. I cannot see how hate crimes legislation can do anything to protect anyone – queer and trans people, people of color, women, and other victims of hate crimes. Hate crimes legislation only works after the fact, after someone has been victimized, hurt, or killed. Hate crimes legislation cannot undo what has been done. Nor can it undo what has been done to our society and to the individuals within it: the inscription of hatred, of intolerance, of prejudice upon our psyches. Hate crimes don’t occur because there aren’t enough laws against them, and hate crimes won’t stop when those laws are in place. Hate crimes occur because, time and time again, our society demonstrates that certain people are worth less than others; that certain people are wrong, are perverse, are immoral in their very being; that certain people deserve discrimination, derision, and disrespect.

Perhaps advocates of hate crimes legislation believe that such laws would send a message to people that homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of prejudice and hatred are wrong. I don’t think it will. How could such laws counteract the prejudices that permeate our society? I seriously doubt that hate crimes legislation that is only brought up after someone is hurt or killed can make a dent in the ubiquitous flood of messages that we receive from politicians, religious leaders, the media and pop culture that queers and trans people are less deserving of respect and rights than straight and non-trans people. In this country, all signs point to queer people being second-class citizens, and trans and gender non-conforming people being maybe third or fourth-class citizens. That is what sets up a situation where someone is targeted because of their sexuality or their gender identity, just as such dehumanization is what has fueled racist and sexist violence for centuries. And that’s simply not going to be undone by hate crimes legislation. Attacking a few of the symptoms of hatred while leaving others unhindered and the root causes untouched is never going to change much of anything.

Moreover, hate crimes legislation is far too tied up with our unjust judicial system and prison industry. How can we rely on systems that continuously target and abuse people of color, queer folks, and trans folks to protect us from targeting and abuse? Can we really trust the police, the courts, and prisons to protect us when much of the time they’re violating our rights, tearing apart our families, and ravaging our communities? Is it likely that hate crimes legislation will be applied fairly across the board in a system that consistently fails to treat all people equally? I think not. For communities that often find themselves being victimized by the judicial and prison systems, there can be little to gain in bolstering those systems and giving them more power to imprison, possibly unjustly. For my part, I’m invested in prison abolition, so “protections” that serve primarily to send more people to jail for longer periods of time are counterintuitive.

In fact, because hate crimes legislation involves no analysis of power – it’s not legislation against homophobic or transphobic or racist acts, but rather against general hatred in any direction – such laws can even be applied against oppressed people. Now, I’m not defending or condoning acts of violence or hatred perpetuated by oppressed people, nor am I saying that one form of violence is better than the other. But the lack of a power analysis built into such legislation reminds me of accusations of “reverse racism” in that they both completely miss the point. Queer folks, trans folks, people of color aren’t disproportionately victimized simply because some individuals hate them; that hatred is backed up, reinforced, and executed by an entire system of institutionalized power that allows and in fact encourages such acts of violence. The lack of acknowledgment of these systems of power in hate crimes legislation only reinforces my belief that such legislation is relatively useless in doing anything to stop homophobia, transphobia, racism and other forms of oppression, and therefore won’t do much to stop the violence that stems from said oppression.

Hate crimes legislation won’t bring Sanesha Stewart or Lawrence King back, nor will it protect other trans and gender non-conforming folks and people of color from violence fueled by hate. Instead of reacting to hatred with disapproval after the fact, we need to instill a proactive condemnation of hatred, prejudice and discrimination into our society. Sure, that’s a much more difficult job to do, but it can be done, slowly but surely, and it’s the only way we’re truly going to protect those who need protection most.