Stop Hate 2000 Newsletter July 5, 2002

Dear Friends,

"..change the world one heart at a time...The tendency that we all have is venting our anger upon the weak or pushing down the weak. In some ways, we don't want them because of the fact that they are fragile and in need of help." --- Jean Vanier, 16 May, 2002.

When we didn't get our May newsletter off nearly as quickly as we hoped to do, it began to look highly likely that we were going to end up with two newsletters for three months again. That proved to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, maybe it isn't always a bad thing. There were several things which happened which may make for a better letter. We hope.

This sounds like Mr. Micawber, of Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield", who was hopelessly getting deeper and deeper in debt, but cheerily went on in the often-expressed belief that "something will turn up." Mr. Dickens, who tended towards happy endings did make something turn up for Mr. Micawber. We certainly have felt like Mr. Micawber on more than one occasion. The long delay we had in getting anything together for last September comes to mind.

We have to begin this newsletter on a sad note, by noting another victim of a hate crime. Or, perhaps, better said, a bias-motivated crime. Jeffrey Tod Owens of Mareno Valley, California, was killed on leaving a gay bar at Riverside, and one other with him was beaten up pretty badly, although he's going to be okay, at least physically. This was another instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: a number of young heroes felt they had to demonstrate their masculinity (at least to each other) by bashing a queer or two. They were in the process of picking a fight with a group of bar patrons who were more numerous and better able to defend themselves, when Mr. Owens and his friend had the misfortune to come out.

Jean Vanier, with whose speech we quoted above, was thinking of people with intellectual disabilities (his term). But although that's his specific work, he keeps coming back to universal themes of our human existence. We identify certain types of people as marginal. And making them marginal, we then begin to find justifications for valuing them less as people. And then we can find ways of showing that we do value them less. It's why any of us can be assigned to one or another of a marginal and despised group. And why we keep returning to this theme. And repeating it.

When there's a specific kind of bias, leading to hate, and indeed to violence, as Jeffrey Owens met this past month, we have to do with two things at the same time. There is a specific bias which has its own reality, and which has to be addressed specifically. And it may be a special form of a more general human attitude which we also have to address.

The now long ago and distant days when this site first took form, in the spring and summer of 1999, was based on the idea that the murder of Matthew Shepard spoke both to a specific and a general failing.

Specific, in that there was no great doubt as to the specific bias which motivated his attackers. That struck deep and hard at a particular community which has suffered much, and which continues to suffer much from that particular hatred. That the hatreds based on sexual orientation should be so clearly shown in Matthew's case has meant a lot. it still does. It was somewhat casually mentioned that the FBI investigated 28 murders of that variety in 1999 and 16 in 2000. We certainly haven't accounted for them all, not on this site, and not anywhere else.

But it was general, in that Matthew also had so many other things which made him an attractive and easy target, so easily made marginal, so easily hated and attacked, that he equally struck a deep and personal chord with so many more who could well see some part of themselves in him, and came to understand how that specific hate could be turned in their direction too, and has been. That is the lesson of Columbine, and the lesson of Charlotte Wetzel. And of a lot of other, grander events. September 11, 2001 reminded us just how grand they can become.

In March, 2001, PBS' "Frontline" had a brave effort at going into depth on the specific hate which killed Matthew and Jeffrey. We were fortunate in that PBS broadcast it again. It started with the murder of Billy Jack Gaither in March, 2000. Happily (not least because of Judy Shepard's pleas to the media to respect his family's privacy), Billy Jack's family did have a year to mourn and grieve for their son and brother privately, and they were able to say quite a lot in a reflective way. We might add that in some ways, Billy Jack's murder was worse than Matthew's. But to continue. The program itself tried to go into the roots of homophobia more deeply than other programs might. In itself, that certainly more than justified the effort. But the web page which was developed in conjunction with it goes a lot further, and provides a lot of information. The link is:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault

Sometimes a reckoning can take a long time to come, but it does seem to catch up eventually. Even in this world. Bobby Frank Cherry was able to avoid the processes of law through conspiracies of silence, but he finally was brought to account on May 23, when he was convicted of participating in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, which killed four black schoolgirls.

So let's remember them for a minute: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins. In a larger way, Mr. Cherry and his cohorts actually paid a much dearer price a much longer time ago. The revulsion at their deed confirmed a crisis of conscience not least in the South of that day, and sped the end of a system of beliefs these men were prepared to fight so violently. It was long in coming: it was eight years after the lynching of Emmett Till, which seems to have been a major turning point. Things could no longer be avoided or delayed. And the bombers doomed their own cause.

Mr. Cherry joins Thomas Blanton, whose conviction we noted last year, and Robert Chambliss in the formal processes of the criminal system. The fourth hero, Herman Frank Cash had his case adjourned to a much higher court in 1994.

In writing these letters, we assume that we're writing to people with a very wide range of political and religious beliefs. If, at times, we draw on one faith or tradition, we hope it will be understood that there seemed to be something which spoke to a much more general human condition.

This time of the year seems to draw several together, what with the summer solstice, the Feast of St. John the Baptist, Independence Day, Bastille Day, Canada Day, the Queen's 50th Anniversary and any number of other things. In the southern hemisphere, the winter solstice, and any number of other things of which our little group is, alas, too ignorant. Either way, it is a traditional time of rest, relaxation, and perhaps reflection. We'll do our share (arguably, we HAVE done our share!), but will hope to be back in touch in another 6-8 weeks at latest.

Given the comments in the last two paragraphs, our readers will perhaps be able to weed out whatever religious difficulties they may see in another of Mr. Vanier's comments.

He told the story of an 11 year old Catholic boy who celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation. His uncle, who was his godfather and sponsor, while congratulating the mother, said how wonderful the Mass had been. The only sad thing, he said, was that her son, who was seriously intellectually disabled, didn't understand a thing. The boy overheard, and said: "Don't worry Mommy. Jesus loves me as I am. I don't have to be what my uncle wants me to be. I don't have to be what you want me to be. It's OK to be myself." To which Mr. Vanier added, "It's OK to discover how precious you are." and how each and every one of us, regardless of our beliefs, really is.

The Stop Hate 2000 e-Team


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