David Ritcheson, the young man from my former home town who was brutalized by a pair of Nazi wannabes last year, has killed himself.
Ritcheson, a small and quiet youth, once lamented being known as “that kid” who survived the party attack. He rarely discussed his feelings and declined to get counseling, according to Mike Trent, the prosecutor who handled Ritcheson’s case. But Trent said Ritcheson always seemed positive and upbeat about his recovery.
“He certainly wanted to see justice done in the case and wanted his attackers punished, but I thought that — considering everything that had happened to him — he had come through things remarkably well,” Trent said.
He said Ritcheson had used drugs before the attack but realized that played a role in his assault and promised to quit.
“It’s just very tragic because I thought he had turned a corner and was trying his best to make something positive out of what happened to him,” Trent said. “He thought that he could handle everything on his own.”
Only now can the full impact of the skinheads’ perverted violence against Ritcheson be publicly measured. Sadly, what we think we know about what David went through is only the smallest part of the ordeal.
By now it’s been well established that the primary motive for the attack – if such can truly be attributed to such brain dead perpetrators – was Ritcheson’s Hispanic heritage. He was badly beaten, ass-raped with a plastic pole, doused with bleach, and left for dead because of the color of his skin and his ancestors’ language.
These facts are beyond debate. Therefore, we need new “hate crimes” legislation to more appropriately prosecute and punish those who commit crimes because of the victim’s race, ethnicity, and/or sexual proclivities, right?
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, credited the 18-year-old’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee for softening opposition to the hate crimes bill, which passed the House 237-180 in May. The bill is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate.
“He was powerful,” Jackson Lee said of the Mexican-American who survived a brutal sexual assault and beating last year by two teens shouting “white power!”
“I was watching him sitting there with poise, with a smiling face and with commitment and courage and dedication and the rightness of what he was saying,” she said. “He was not in any way doubtful of what he was saying.”
In Houston, Dena Marks of the Anti-Defamation League Southwest Regional Office, which arranged Ritcheson’s trip to Washington, said she and her colleagues were shocked and saddened by his death, resulting from his jump from a Mexico-bound cruise ship on Sunday.
“My own impression of him was that he was doing remarkably well and was very interested in doing whatever he could to fight the kind of hatred that he had been victimized by,” Marks said. “He seemed to be a great kid who just wanted to take something very, very bad that had happened to him and make something good out of it for other people. He worked very hard toward that.”
Jackson Lee said the tragedy of Ritcheson’s death could draw attention to the need for the hate crimes bill, as well as one she drafted that focuses on educating teenagers involved in hate groups. She said she intends to amend her legislation, nicknamed “David’s Bill,” to include funding and counseling support for victims.
“Now we have a greater reason to move this bill as fast as we can,” she said of the main hate crimes bill, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. “We will have a full press forward to have the president change his mind. Maybe he will rethink his position.”
Lee clearly intends to leverage David’s suicide in order to bring the new legislation to frution. But is this right?
No. The facts of this case are clear. But so are the long sentences handed out to the neo-Nazi scum who committed the crime. To the extent that it is ever truly achieved in a sex-related crime, justice was served in this case.
Here are three reasons why hate crimes legislation is a bad idea:
- Existing laws cover already every conceivable crime and some I can’t conceive of. Like this case.
The last thing we need are more laws. Rather, we need fewer laws that we actually intend to enforce without regard to race, creed, or color.
- Hate crimes legislation would create a multi-tiered system of justice that is no longer blind but instead deals out sentences based in part on the color of the parties’ skin color. This is clearly against the American ideal as it favors some social groups’ results in the justice system at the expense of others.
- Using hate crime laws, sentences would be increased in (large?) part by the emotional content of the case, inputs into which would include information presented in the courtroom and also that provided by the media. The result seems likely to be unpredictable sentencing based on cases’ relative “popularity” rather than the rational outcomes that American justice has long strived for.
As much as I wish this sad case had never happened, the hate crimes bill does nothing to protect future victims nor does it improve the quality of justice dispensed by our legal system. Those should be the deciding factors in what we do, not the emotions that are raised because of a case like this.
If you agree, write your senator and urge him or her to vote against the hate crimes bill, should it get a full floor vote.