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August 10, 2003

Here’s what a hero looks like. A “knotty jumble of mind and heart.” (Via Charles Kuffner.) [02:14 PM]
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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Here's what a hero looks like.:

Dennis Slater ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 02:35 PM:

Great story.

What is in a person's heart and what he does is sometimes more important than how he talks or what he says.

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 02:51 PM:

Somehow I'm unsurprised that this is the one thing that Dennis Slater picked up from this story.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 03:08 PM:

Now now. It's true enough.

And yet, what people say is part of what they do. You can't draw that clean a distinction.

I also distrust this "what is in a person's heart" stuff when it gets too disconnected from what that person says and does. What we know about one another's "hearts" is made up of what we see one another say and do. Telepathic insights into "heart" don't exist independent of that.

The point I'd make is that the same person who's an annoying asshole can also be an incredible hero. Which means there's hope for the rest of us as well. (Now, gee, who was it who said that before?)

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 04:39 PM:

The point I'd make is that the same person who's an annoying asshole can also be an incredible hero.

Fair point.

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 07:18 PM:

I hope there'll be some follow-stories about Gary Gardner's friends and neighbors end up treating him.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 09:13 PM:

Brave man.

Canny one too.

He knew perfectly well that a politically correct sensitive modern man would be dismissed out of hand as a holier-than-thou liberal crusader, but if an N-word-spouting God-fearing good-old-boy were to put his foot down for "What's Right," the actual racists wouldn't know what to do with him and would cave sooner or later.

That straw hat is a calculated touch.

It's also worth mentioning that the politically correct saints people might prefer weren't actually going there and getting their hands dirty.

JWoods ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 11:03 PM:

I love hearing about a guy who cares about what's right and doesn't care what everybody else thinks. Especially when the accused have so much at stake and their defender could just stand by and let it happen.

I grew up in Amarillo and spent a lot of my youth on those small Panhandle towns. I've known a lot of men like Gary Gardner. Some of them are my relatives. I can't speak for Mr. Gardner, but those men would not put on some kind of bullshit redneck act in order to make the right kind of impression with the media. My guess: he uses that language because he enjoys horrifying his daughters. Typical of the Panhandle sense of humor, which is unusual to say the least.

And, while Texas doesn't have many of those "politically correct saints," there are a lot of liberals around here who worked very hard on the Tulia case. If you don't believe me, check out the Texas Observer, which has been documenting this case for more than a year.

Charles Kuffner ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 11:17 PM:

It's also worth mentioning that the politically correct saints people might prefer weren't actually going there and getting their hands dirty.

I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here, but if you read the story, you might have noticed that early on Gary Gardner contacted the NAACP, LULAC, and the ACLU. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund provided a pro bono attorney, Jeff Blackburn, who spent 2000 hours and $39,000 of his own money working to get them released. Finally, the story was first broken by the venerable Texas lefty rag, the Texas Observer, back in 2000, where it was eventually picked up by Bob Herbert in the New York Times.

Gary Gardner was a hero, no question about it. But he wasn't alone. Check your facts before you draw any sweeping conclusions next time.

Dr. Joe ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 11:59 PM:

A great American story, and Gary Gardner is an inspiration at a time wehn everyone seems almost eager to give up their rights to Bush and Ashcroft.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 12:10 AM:

Charles,

Hmm, well, didn't think he was alone, but he was the one who spearheaded the case.

The other people should get their due.

Consider the conclusions unswept.

Copeland ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 02:10 PM:

I live in Texas and I grew up here. There are times when the death-penalty-loving, knuckle-headed conservatism of the place simply drives me mad. But there is another Texas. It's hard to believe that liberal Democrats once had some clout here. (that was ages ago)

But the liberals and progressives I know in my neck of the woods, I consider to be brave and wonderful souls. There is mind-numbing complacency and traditionalism here in Texas, I grant you. But there have been a few moments when consciousness has been raised in the last few years.

Over the obstructionism of George W. Bush, the State did finally pass a hate-crimes bill in the aftermath of the brutal, racially motivated murder of James Byrd, in Jasper. Byrd's own family let it be known that they didn't want any law that didn't also include protection for gays. The compassion of Byrd's people had a lot to do with the passing of that legislation. The Tulia case got some significant news coverage in Texas. Every once in while you see the local reporters doing really serious work.

There are tantalizing moments when I think that activists might actually wake this place up.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 02:52 PM:

Copeland: I grew up in Oklahoma though I no longer live there. So I was about to shout, "Seeble!" until I hit the approving notice of a hate crimes law. I just can't go there. It's a thought crimes law, not a hate crimes law. Murder is murder and it is already on the books. Meting out a stiffer sentence because the crime was motivated by hate is punishment for thought and/or speech. I can't go there.

MKK

Copeland ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 04:16 PM:

Mary Kay: I suppose we must agree to disagree. But unless I misunderstand the intent of the hate-crimes law, I don't see it as an infringement of free speech. If a person shouts "fire" (as a prank) in a crowded theatre, and people are hurt, there is a question of accountability. The Supreme Court has made a ruling about sticking a burning-cross in someone's front yard; to the effect that it is not a "statement", but a very personal and palpable threat and a threat against life.

And I don't agree that "murder is murder". The crime of killing is decidedly aggravated by certain factors. There is the unwitting crime of manslaughter. Crimes of passion involving killing are more serious, but sometimes admit mitigation. The most heinous crime of killing is acknowledged to be with premeditation. Hate-crime murder must suggest a kind of irrational premeditation, as in the case of the James Byrd killing.

I don't see how such law will impact speech. The law does quite a lot I think, to show that society is willing to show resolve that some historically vulnerable people receive sympathy and a full measure of protection.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 04:45 PM:

Mary Kay, I partially share that feeling. Two things keep me from joining your camp fully.

One: many existing laws take motivation and thought into account. Planning a murder is more severely punished than just being really mad, then killing the person. What we're really talking about is intent. If the guys who killed Matthew Shepard had just torture-murdered him because he was an easy victim, then their crime would just have been a murder, albeit a horrific one. But they did it because he was a queer, and that turns it into something else. That makes it a terroristic threat against all gay people, especially in the light of the way they hung him on the fence (familiar, I'm told, to all who live in coyote country as a technique used with a freshly-killed coyote, to keep other coyotes away).

Two: studies have shown that, in contrast to studies of other kinds of penalty-stiffening, hate crimes laws actually reduce the incidence of hate crimes. And reduce it from the moment they're enacted, before they're ever applied. "Well, the governor just signed that bill. Guess it's not OK to beat up faggots anymore, hoodah thunkit."

This doesn't put me entirely in the pro-hate-crimes camp either. It leaves me feeling, as Tom Lehrer put it, like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.

Tuxedo Slack ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 04:54 PM:

Orcinus points out occasionally (did it recently enough, in fact, that you can probably scroll down his front page and check it out) that calling bias-motivated crimes "hate crimes" gives ammo to the "all crimes are 'hate crimes'" crowd (who, as far as I can tell, propagate that meme because they sense it's going out of fashion to claim that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are "special privileges" when gays want to claim them).

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 07:52 PM:

Murder is murder, perhaps, but is vandalism vandalism?

Two juvenile offenders are brought before two judges. They both were caught red-handed, spray-painting the sides of buildings.

Offender #1 tagged a side wall of a liquor store with a street gang's mark. Offender #2 painted a swastika on the facade of a synagogue.

You don't have to look into the minds of the perpetrators to see a difference between the two offenses. At least, I don't.

In the absence of a hate-crime law, the two offenses are identical: spraypainting the side of a building. Should the two perpetrators receive equal punishments?

ULrika ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 08:45 PM:

Mary Kay-

I understand ambivalence about hate crime laws, but as Orcinus points out (heck, just go read the whole long post taking the juice out of Balloon Juice), the vast, vast majority of "hate crimes" aren't murder. There is no point in upping the stakes on murder. But assault? Harrassment? Making threats? There's a whole world of difference between one asshole neighbor making threatening remarks on his own behalf, and speaking on behalf of, say, the KKK, or their spiritual kindred. The latter is much likelier to terrorize whole communities into immobility. And proscribing it is not thought policing. If the man threatens to bring in the Klan and burn down your house, you don't need a psychic to know about it, and that kind of threat has a far more profound effect than certain other types of threats. I'm not sure that it's bad for the law to recognize those kinds of differences, if it can do so gracefully, and without mangling the Constitution. "If," is of course the big question.

And at least some folks seem to have data that that kind of crimes are reduced by having tougher sentences on the books for them, unlike many other kinds of crime. It seems as if there is a sense of community disapproval of bias crimes, some of the bravado goes right out of the potential criminals.

So I dunno. I am at least ambivalent.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 08:58 PM:

What Ulrika said. I used to be fairly opposed to "hate crimes" legislation. I've become more ambivalent, for the reasons she and others set forth above.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 11:42 PM:

I was perhaps too positive, but I will point out that the case under discussion in the post to which I responded was, in fact, murder. There is a world of difference, to me anyhow, in giving someone a harsher sentence based on premeditation as opposed to passion and giving a harsher sentence based on the reasons for committing the murder. That can only be based on the perp's thoughts and statements.

I am, like those posting above, ambivalent about the whole vandalism and related crimes issue. I still can't but feel it is thought and speech being penalized and this is the wrong direction to go. I realize the difference in both intent and effect, I am, after all married to a Jew you know. I have thought about it a lot and I see the precedent as more dangerous to our body politic. I think it is, however, a problem with no easy answer and thus open to disagreement among people of good will.

MKK

rea ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 09:00 AM:

"There is a world of difference, to me anyhow, in giving someone a harsher sentence based on premeditation as opposed to passion and giving a harsher sentence based on the reasons for committing the murder. That can only be based on the perp's thoughts and statements."

Well, but we do that all the time, too. Most states, for most crimes, give the judges a range of punishment options. Among the things the jduge takes into account in determining the particular sentence is the perpetrator's reasons for committing the crime. Stealing a loaf for bread for thrills, and stealing it because you kids are hungry, are and should be treated differently by the criminal justice system.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2003, 10:49 AM:


My reservations on hate crimes are similar to those above... Murder is murder, and to modify it because of the motive (agreeing that we are not talking about lesser homicides) seems to change the various values of life.

As for the rest... where does the slope lead? Who shall determine what groups are to be protected from hate? Where shall the expression of opinion cease to be free-speech and move to that which must be suppressed that one group, or antother, be protected?

The laws are vague, if not in the language, then in the application (and there are few here, I think, who will deny that the police are the gatekeepers of intent. If they decide to give a warning, or just not investigate, who can say them nay?).

In the Czech Republic a man was just punished for translating, "Mein Kampf." Is that sort of reaction what we want?

If not, how can we get the balance between what we want, and that result?

What I want is a place where such question don't arise, but living in the real world (and in a part of it where, "communicating a threat," is an illegal act... so I get to see some oddball results of what can become hate-crime type actions) I know that the shades of grey are going to be all around, for long after my hour upon the stage.

Terry K.

Jan Vanek jr. ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2003, 12:51 PM:

Terry Karney: In the Czech Republic a man was just punished for translating, "Mein Kampf."

Just to clear a (somewhat irrelevant) point: He was punished for publishing it, nothing happened to the translator. Also, appeal is still pending.

Another semi-irrelevant addition: there's no doubt that he's one of our more unsavoury publishers - a former fringefan, but gafiated to where he smelled money :-) - who published Mein Kampf merely because he hoped to make a killing. And, alas, he did; the book is bound in black fake leather, with gold-embossed title in Gothic script and a swastika-holding eagle a (on all photographies available online it is covered with a paper band). Reportedly it makes an ornament to every neo-Nazi's bookcase (or rather cupboard), plus people flocked to get it as soon as the lawsuit scandal broke out. However, the translation is rather bad and it is accompanied just by a perfunctory one-page "Nazism was Evil" preface; so much for his defense that he did it for the sake of historic research, although he indeedwent and poured some money into a line of "historic documents" from the Communist Manifesto to US constitution.

Of course I realize that you can't sentence people for just being unsavoury publishers (even if they really deserve it :-) However I reserve the right to withhold opinion on the real issue of contention except noting that the continental-European view on "hate speech" etc. is built on different principles (and historic experience) than the US First Amendment, and I don't think either is unequivocally, provably inferior or "wrong". Czech laws are actually comparatively moderate; when I bought a second-hand copy of _Fatherland_ by Richard Harris which had a swastika on its cover (the artists are really _so_ unimaginative whenever a thriller deals with Nazism) pasted up with dark paper and deduced why from the pricetag in DM, the feeling of strangeness was about as strong as when I read Mary Kay's coment above...

Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 10:33 AM:

Just a bump to this -- yesterday's news on NPR had comments on the governor of TX granting amnesty to 36 people still in prison from the original egregious miscarriage of justice. Sometimes the heros win.

Cheers,
Tom