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Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 1998 / 1 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Thomas Sowell


EVERYONE SHOULD BE OUTRAGED by the murder of Matthew Shepard --- not because he was gay, but because he was a human being. We can only hope that the murderers' lawyers don't find a shrink who will say that "homophobia" is a disease and try to use that to get reduced sentences.

Already there are attempts to politicize this young man's murder by seeking laws against "hate crimes" and other items on the homosexual lobby's political agenda. In an era when so many people are so easily stampeded by words, we need to step back and think about what we are saying when we talk about "hate crimes." If Matthew Shepard was not gay and was murdered for his insurance, would that make it any less of a crime?

People who glibly talk about "hate crimes" ignore both the past and the implications for the future in what they are advocating. It took centuries of struggle and people putting their lives on the line to get rid of the idea that a crime against "A" should be treated differently than the same crime committed against "B."

After much sacrifice and bloodshed, the principle finally prevailed that killing a peasant deserved the same punishment as killing a baron. Now the "hate crime" advocates want to undo all that and take us back to the days when punishment did not fit the crime, but varied with who the crime was committed against.

In the olden days, at least the law could readily apply its standard, even if it was a bad standard, because everyone could tell a peasant from a baron. But, once we make the punishment depend on motivation, we have entered never-never land, where opposing shrinks tell opposing stories to bewildered jurors, taking up lots of time in already overcrowded courts.

People who automatically respond to any problem by saying, "There ought to be a law" never seem to consider whether they are spreading existing law enforcement resources thinner and thinner. When new laws are passed, there is seldom even a consideration of whether to hire more police and more judges, much less build more courtrooms and more prisons.

Apparently it is OK just to spread the existing resources thinner. That makes sense only if the purpose of laws is to make people feel that they have "made a statement" -- regardless of what the actual consequences may turn out to be.

Even more disturbing than such irresponsible uses of the law is the notion that there should be "gay rights," "women's rights" and various ethnic group "rights." The Fourteenth Amendment provides for equal rights and equal protection of the laws. If you want more than that, then you are no longer talking about rights, but about special privileges.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric of victimhood has been used repeatedly over the past few decades to claim special privileges -- and not just by homosexuals. The time is long overdue for everyone to wake up and not let this game go on forever -- or until it has us all at each others' throats.

Special privileges are poisonous to a whole society. Often those who claim these privileges become victims of the backlash.

Even when the privileges are not put into the law but consist only of special indulgences for rotten behavior that would not be tolerated by other members of the society, this too is poisonous in itself, as well as breeding inevitable backlashes.

Many of those who are loudest in their demands for "gay rights" and in breast-beating over their "identity" show the least respect for other people's rights and even go out of their way to insult Catholics or others who do not share their lifestyle. Homosexuals do not need my approval, but neither do they have a right to my approval -- or to propagandize a captive audience of children in the public schools to get their approval or to acquire new recruits.

Homosexuals are not unique in trying to cash in victimhood for privileges, if only the privilege of insulting other people with impunity. But neither they nor anyone else should be allowed to get away with this.

It is not at all clear that most homosexuals go along with the goals and tactics of those who proclaim themselves their "leaders." When you consider how many other groups' "leaders" advocate things to which most members of those groups are opposed, there is little basis for taking "gay rights" advocates at their word, much less let what they say be the last word for the whole society.

10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.