Hate crime fuels bill for peace

Michael Szabo

Lawrence King’s death has inspired many reactions – from feelings of utter sadness, to plain indifference, to total dismay.

However, the prevailing reaction is hope for a change, which Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) is trying to bring to life by passing a bill that teaches tolerance and acceptance of other people’s sexuality.

King, 15, was allegedly killed by fellow student Brandon Mclnerney, 14, in front of other students at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif., on Feb. 12.

It is alleged that King was killed because he had asked Mclnerney to be his Valentine, according to the Huffington Post.

Mclnerney was charged with premeditated murder. with the use of a firearm and an allegation of hate crime.

He will be tried as an adult and, if convicted, could serve 50 years to life in prison.

Mclnerney could also serve an additional one to three years due to the police having designated the act as a hate crime.

“We already have bills on the books about proper punishment,” Eng said at a press conference. “Mine will focus on dealing with hatred in a school setting.”

“It’s a great idea,” said Erica Cragin, 18, undecided major, about what she thinks of the bill. “You don’t have anyone trying to prevent (hate crimes) from happening.”

Eng was not made available for comment.

Office aides also declined to comment on the bill’s prospect of passage.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the bill would serve to allocate $150,000 toward a pilot program that would establish a curriculum promoting diversity and sensitivity. The funds would be distributed to select school districts in the state. If successful, the program would be a poster to extending it statewide.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed three bills similar to this one in the past, but supporters of the bill said they hope the notoriety of the King case will help get it passed into law in 2008.

“The first time I heard about [King’s death], I cried,” said 19-year-old Sarah Franklin, a communications major. “It really sucks.”

“It’s time for straight people to stand up and say no,” Professor Richard J. Follett said about what should be done next.

Follett teaches the English Bible as Literature class at Pierce College and was the adviser to the Pierce Gay-Straight Alliance for a time.

He still strongly supports the club.

“Homosexuality is like being left-handed,” Follett said.

“If you are, you are. If you aren’t, you aren’t. It’s how you deal with it.”

It has been said by some that homosexuality is a choice and by others that it is not.

Regardless, society has made some strides over the years to accept homosexuals and grant them equal rights.

GSA President Christopher Ramirez conveyed his hopes for the bill.

“It’s been 10 years since the murder of Matthew Shepard. For all that time, this hate’s been coming to a boil,” Ramirez said.

“I’m sad that it takes an explosion of hate – an explosion that resulted in the murder of another young innocent – to motivate our leaders to address this problem.”

Events like King’s murder are more common than they are published, with the most infamous hate crime being Shepard’s murder in 1998.

Shepard was pistol-whipped, tortured and tied to a fence.

His assailants left him for dead and he was pronounced dead five days later.

With support from popular gay leaders like California State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), the skeptics have also issued their concerns about the bill.

One fear expressed is that the program could cause more harm by alienating and separating gay youth from straight youth, rather than curing them of the hateful mindset.

Ramirez responded to this skepticism with optimism, saying, “We have to believe that our youth isn’t predisposed to hate.

There has to be a way to take ignorant beliefs and teach the gospel of hope and love. If we lose faith inourselves, only we can be blamed for the continuing body count.”

The news buzz over this story has been significantly less than the buzz over the Virginia Tech. and Columbine High School shootings.

Of the students interviewed, 25 percent did not even know it had happened.

Anderson Cooper announced on his 360 blog that his Monday night show was going to focus on “a story that hasn’t received the attention it deserves.”

He was referencing the death of King. On his show Monday night there was no mention at all of King.

“For whatever reason, there’s still a lack of willingness to address the anti-LGBT bullying that goes on in schools,” said Daryl Presgraves, spokesperson for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.