Columbia Law School Center for Gender and Sexuality
Queer Theory Workshop: Theory Meets Practice
September 18, 2012: Hate Crimes/Bullying Laws
As part of the Columbia Law School Center for Gender and Sexuality’s ongoing Queer Theory Workshops, I recently attended a panel that included Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN, and Richard Kim, Executive Editor at The Nation. At issue were hate crimes and anti-bullying legislation, particularly as seen through the lens of the Dharun Ravi case in New Jersey that resulted from the aftermath of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi’s suicide in 2010.
The panel did a wonderful job of problematizing legislative and criminal remedies to the “problem” of bullying by asking how they actually function and are implemented, regardless of their ideal goals or intentions. Kim, in particular, provided a chilling analysis of the application of hate crime style laws, which, as he noted, are utterly typified by the Ravi case. Since violent crimes generally need no sentencing enhancement in most States today because sentencing is already so harsh, bias crime statutes have largely been directed at individuals under twenty years old, especially people of color, to secure jail time for typically nebulous events of “harassment” or “mischief.” Far from responding to a lack of punishment for murder or violent assault against minority groups or lesbians and gays, then, these statutes have instead resulted in the imprisonment of minors for nonviolent offenses like Ravi’s “invasion of privacy,” which was the anchor of the criminal case in which he was also found guilty of “bias intimidation” under New Jersey law.
Dean Spade, who was in attendance as an audience member, extended Kim’s analysis to add that the legal protection of a new group, lesbian and gay people, has become entirely dependent in recent years on pre-existing apparatuses of racist detention, punishment, discipline and incarceration so violent in and of themselves that they call into question the logic of an ostensibly progressive political movement (mainstream LGBT politics).