As hate crimes rise, NC must act
Earlier this fall, I met an incredible woman. Elke Kennedy approached me at an event. She was friendly, but I could see a sadness in her eyes.
Elke’s son Sean Kennedy was murdered on May 17 in Greenville, South Carolina. He was targeted because he was gay.
Sean was leaving a local bar when a car pulled up beside him, a young man got out of the car, came around the car, approached Sean and called him an anti-gay slur and then punched him so hard that it broke his facial bones. He fell back and hit the asphalt. This resulted in his brain being separated from its stem and ricocheting in his head.
His attacker left Sean to die, later leaving a message with one of Sean’s friends saying, “You tell your faggot friend that when he wakes up he owes me $500 for my broken hand.”
As I talked to Elke, I saw clearly the devastating impact that hate violence has on our communities. The attack on Sean not only cut short this 20 year old’s life and hurt his family and friends. It is a kind of terrorism that instills a fear in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It sends a message that they cannot live their lives in their communities without wondering if they might be the next victim of senseless, bigoted crime.
Hate violence, like the attack on Sean Kennedy, is on the rise in North Carolina and across the nation, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s recent report on Hate Crimes Statistics for 2006. Here in the Tar Heel State, hate-motivated incidents reported by local law enforcement rose 12 percent from 2005 to 2006.
In North Carolina, like South Carolina, we have no laws that address crimes motivated by anti-gay bias.
We have been fortunate in North Carolina that we haven’t had a murder motivated by anti-gay hate in recent years – at least as far as we know. But other kinds of hate crimes like assaults and destruction of property continue to happen.
We don’t even have a complete picture of how often anti-gay attacks occur, since reporting incidents based on sexual orientation to the FBI is strictly voluntary. Indeed, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which tracks hate crimes in only 12 areas of the country, documented more anti-LGB hate crimes in 2006 than local law enforcement agencies reported to the FBI nationwide.
Following Sean’s murder, there’s been outcry in South Carolina for the state to pass inclusive hate crime legislation to send a strong message that hate violence has no place in the state and to give law enforcement the tools they need to effectively prosecute those who terrorize parts of our community.
Sean’s mother has dedicated herself to that effort and to educating people about the horrible effect hate violence has on families and communities. No one – black or white, immigrant or native, gay or straight – should have to live in fear of being attacked simply for who they are.
Will North Carolina wait for someone like Sean Kennedy to die before we change our laws too?
Ian Palmquist is the executive director of Equality North Carolina, the statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group.