Thursday, May 24, 2007

Felony Hate Crime: Not So Simple

This post got a little longer than I'd expected, sorry. It's just, sometimes these things are fascinating, trying to peer through the fog of media ambiguity and spin to figure out what really happened. I found things by dribs and drabs, and I'm afraid that's how this post will be "organized."

The story is going around the Internet about two girls in Crystal Lake, Illinois who were arrested for hate crimes and other things after they handed out what the media called "anti-gay fliers." I haven't said anything about it, because the stories are so vague that ... well, no good can come out of talking about this. If the fliers said "Homosexuality is a sin," then that wouldn't be a hate-crime. If they said "Kill all the fags," then ... I suppose that would be. Since we don't know what they said, we can't judge.
WOODSTOCK – A judge Tuesday ordered that one of two teens charged with a hate crime for distributing fliers that contained hateful messages toward gays at a Crystal Lake high school remain in custody at a juvenile detention center until her trial.

“I’m very nervous about your daughter being home without supervision,” Judge Michael Chmiel told the girl’s mother.

The 16-year-old girl has had about 12 other run-ins with police over recent years, Chmiel said.

“I know several of those, or quite a few of them were from this summer,” the girl’s mother said in court. “We’ve had rough spots – lots of them.” Student still in custody on hate-crime charges

I'm sympathetic with the mother here because -- tell you what, don't think it can't happen to you.

This girl has had, they say, now, thirteen "run-ins with police." I'd say this puts her in the tail of the bell curve, even without this national news. Kid's having trouble.
Attorneys also said the girl had been suspended from school as a result of the incident and could face expulsion.

McHenry County Court Services, which completed an evaluation on the girl’s home, reported that the girl’s bedroom contained inappropriate posters and writings on the wall.

Oh man, I hope they never come to my house...

There's another girl, it sounds like she was not quite the instigator, but who knows?

Part of the question is -- what did these fliers actually say???

I've looked at a lot of news stories about this now. Here's a clue:
The girls were arrested this month after they allegedly were caught distributing the fliers in Crystal Lake South High School’s parking lot. The fliers depicted a male student kissing another boy, along with hateful statements about gays.

Students told the Northwest Herald that the girls produced the fliers to get revenge on a friend after their relationship soured.

The alleged victim of the hate crime also is the neighbor to one of the girls charged, according to court testimony.

So it appears a girl made a flier of her ex-boyfriend, maybe Photoshopped something so he was kissing another boy -- maybe it was a real picture, I wouldn't know. Kids these days, y'know? She was putting this flier all around the school.

The comments on this online news story are interesting. There are the usual, mostly defending the girls. The last comment at this time is from a person who knows the boy. She meanders a bit, here are a few quotes from her comment:
... I know the victim in this case and the parents have contacted a law professional about taking this to a civil court, but the advice of the lawyer is to wait until the state prosecutes their case. The victim is exactly that "a victim" and the law should represent the victim in this case due to the FACT that these girls were caught red handed putting these fliers on every car in the parking lot of CL South High. (Isn’t this why we pay taxes) When noticed, these fliers were removed by the school officials then a short time later the girls came back and continued to post the fliers again. When approached, they both took off running away from school officials and the schools liaison police officer. This is why the police were now brought into the picture...

...This is a “Hate Crime” and like many of these comments stated ... ”what if this was happening to you” or “you are the parent of the victim”? What would YOU do? How would you feel then? Would you still want to just give these girls a slap on the wrist and be done with this... ..meanwhile they are planning the their next step to do something even worse since they got away with this stunt. Also, this is not the first incident that these girls have done to this victim and his family. How much more needs to continue before the law does step in. Will someone have to get hurt physically or even killed because these types of incidents keep going on? These girls have HURT the whole family with their words and actions against this victim and they must be stopped and held responsible for their actions. (Yes, I have seen the fliers!)

Oh, hang on, here's a little more in the Chicago Tribune:
The fliers had a photograph of two males kissing and included "words of an inflammatory nature," said Police Chief Dave Linder. One male in the photo was identified, Linder said.

The girls were charged with a hate crime because the fliers "were not written for informational purposes but rather were to incite a breach of peace or cause injury to the person or persons the message was directed against," said Thomas Carroll, McHenry County first assistant state's attorney. Teens face hate-crime charge for anti-gay flier

Ah, and here's another story about how upset the other students are that the girls were arrested. It has another tidbit:
Investigators and school officials would not specify the flier’s contents or whether the students remained in school this week. But classmates said the flier showed a picture of two boys kissing along with the words, “God hates fags.”Hate-crime charges upset classmates

Hey, you might find this interesting, especially if you follow American Idol. A guy who was a finalist on that show a few years ago, Jim Verraros -- do you remember him? -- I don't -- grew up in Crystal Lake, the town where this happened. A web site called "Boy Culture" (look, I don't make this stuff up, I'm just following the links) purports to have an email from Verraros, which is worth quoting. Oh, I should mention that Verraros seems to be best known as the first openly gay American Idol contestant.

He emailed this other guy (I'm editing some of the chaff out of it):
My name is Jim Verraros, and unfortunately I am from Crystal Lake,Illinois. I refuse to use the term, "hometown," as I am sickened and embarrassed at the turn of events that happened on Wednesday, May 16th 2007 at my former High School, Crystal Lake South High School, which I graduated from in 2001.

Two girls were arrested on Hate Crime Charges. Both just 16 years old. As I begin to write this, I am infuriated by this detailed account ( of an attack on a fellow male student. Whether he is gay or not, this is a serious issue that has not been taken lightly, thank God.

This is not the first time Crystal Lake, Illinois has been associated with homophobia. How long will it take the people, especially the PARENTS of these misguided children, to see that they're actually raising HOMOPHOBIC, IGNORANT kids? The problem lies at home, people. No matter what way you slice it.

When I was 17 years old, attending the very same school these girls were arrested from, my brake lines were cut on my 89' Buick Century. I was a decent student, had friends, and was heavily involved in extra curricular activities. I just happened to be a 17-year old boy too afraid to come out to my fellow peers in high school. And the article below proves why.

So, good for you, Crystal Lake. For continuing to prove time and time again, that you breed hatred. You breed ignorance, and most of all you're breeding an entirely new generation of people that will do nothing but continue the hate crime acts. Boy Culture

They cut his brake lines. That's no prank, that's attempted murder.

Kind of supporting that account, we see HERE where a 19-year-old from Crystal Lake is busted at the university in Madison, Wisconsin, for ripping down a gay poster and writing on the wall, "“I hate f-cking f-ggots! Die.” Well, that's how the Badger Herald abbreviated it.

So it sounds like Crystal Lake is a town in need of an attitude adjustment.

Like, listen to this, from Wikipedia:
Controversy erupted in the community in February 2006, when it was announced that the Gay Games, which were scheduled to begin July 15, 2006 in Chicago were seeking to hold the rowing events on Crystal Lake. The lake is uniquely suitable to hold such events because of its considerable length and width, and shape. However, Crystal Lake, situated in strongly conservative McHenry County, is home to many conservative Christians, who were opposed to the events on moral grounds. On March 2, 2006, the Crystal Lake Park District voted to reject the Gay Games' application to use the lake for their rowing events, after a tense meeting where over one hundred residents spoke before the board, the majority in opposition. The vote was 2-2, as Crystal Lake Park District President Jerry Sullivan was absent. The deadlocked issue was considered dead. The Gay Games indicated they may seek legal action against the city and the Park District, citing a recently passed Illinois law which prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation.

However, the very next day, March 3, 2006, the president of the Crystal Lake Park District, Jerry Sullivan, who had been on vacation in Mexico, returned and set aside the previous night's vote, and set a new meeting for March 7, 2006. The meeting was held in a local banquet hall in anticipation of great attendance, but the hall proved too small as many people were turned away and cars had to be assigned to an overflow parking lot. The result of the single-issue, four hour meeting was a 3 to 2 vote allowing the use of the lake for the Gay Games. Several weeks later, in April, the Crystal Lake city council approved the event by a vote of 6 to 1, as mayor Aaron Shepley sharply reined in any discussions of morality. The next week, the Lakewood board of village trustees also approved the event, allowing the Gay Games to take place as originally planned. The community remained divided over the event. The rowing competition took place as scheduled on July 16, with no altercations between the estimated 650 spectators and 15 protestors. Organizers of the games said they considered the protests to be a non-event and that the Crystal Lake crowd was one of the largest at any July 16 event.Crystal Lake, IL

You will be interested to know that the gay sites I see that comment on this mostly seem to agree that calling somebody a name shouldn't be a hate crime. For instance, Gay City News and Gay News Blog play it down, Queerty calls it an "anti-gay prank."

It sounds like this girl has problems and the judge is trying to keep her out of more trouble. I don't think anybody wants to see America turn into a place where you get charged with a felony for insulting somebody. If the laws in Illinois were written that way, then maybe there will be a constitutional challenge and something will change. Because I'm no lawyer, but I'm thinking the First Amendment ain't gonna let that happen. But I also have the feeling there is a lot more to this case than just some girls gone wild trying to torture an ex-boyfriend. We don't know what the fliers said, for one thing, and we don't know what else they've been doing to hassle this kid.

It also sounds like Crystal Lake, Illinois is one stinkin' hell-hole of a place to live. They have less than 40,000 people in this little place, but they seem to get in the news a lot, in the worst way. There was another story I didn't link to, where a guy in Crystal Lake went into a market looking for minorities and killed somebody named Naoki Kamijima. Hate crime? Yep.

Here in Montgomery County we have some background noise, but nothing like this -- just be glad you don't live in Crystal Lake, Illinois.


Anonymous Matthew Rettenmund said...

I really don't agree with the apologist tone of this post. I blogged my response at my site (I don't make this stuff up either) Boy Culture, cited in this article as having an e-mail from Jim Verraros. (By the way, I don't purport to have an e-mail from Jim Verraros, I have an e-mail from Jim Verraros. It was a mass MySpace e-mail, so thousands have it.) Thanks for listening. I definitely support the goal of your site, but was not wowed by the tone of this particular post. Matt PS My blog has adult imagery and content, for anyone thinking of clicking the link from work or on a computer shared with children.

May 25, 2007 10:24 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Matthew, sorry if you didn't like the tone of this post. Well, not very sorry -- if I was going to apologize to everybody who didn't like something I said, that's all I'd ever do all day.

There are a lot of different aspects to this, and I don't think it would be fair to look at it just one way. For one thing, these girls were behaving badly, I mean, this was stupid, OK? You break up, it hurts, you move on.

Another aspect is the poisonous atmosphere that seems to exist in this town, as noted in your posted email. And you are more willing than I am to believe that it is what it says it is, but that's just you and me. This town has a nasty streak to it that you see reflected in all these different news stories, not just this one. Of course, I'm pretty sure this is not the only red-necky gay-bashing little town in America, but it is definitely an ugly example.

Then there's the most difficult problem of hate crimes, especially when they apply to speech. Somebody says something bad about a group, that's not very nice but it shouldn't be a felony, and I don't think America can allow that to happen. But we can't tell from these news stories whether they actually advocated violence against gays or not, or what they said, or whether their harassment of this kid went beyond that.

A lot of the media want to paint this in black and white. Either fascist judges want to control our speech, or homophobia is raging out of control. I don't think it boils down that easily -- these are hard problems for a society to address, and I don't want to trivialize the complexity of it.

As to whether your web site is a good one or not, uh, I don't have an opinion on that. I didn't look around very much. I suppose your friends like it, which is fine.


May 25, 2007 10:49 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

I'm not sure if coming out with both guns blazing against homophobic people accomplishes our goals. It certainly doesn't impress politicians and the vast number of people who are ambivalent about discomfort or dislike of lgbt people. We all have people in our families whom we would consider homophobic, but they're still our families. I think people's minds and attitudes can change, but it takes time.

For my part, I liked your Post, jim. I would like to know exactly what the fliers said, what else the girls had done, and what the responses of people in the town were. It seems to me that after an originally alarmist response, the town settled down and hosted an event of the gay games. Progress.


May 25, 2007 12:23 PM  
Anonymous Bret G. said...

Free Speech is not a hate crime. At worst this is a case of harassment that should have been settled at the school.

June 02, 2007 9:11 AM  

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