Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Matthew Shepherd

Last night marks the 10th anniversary when Matthew Shepherd was pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote rural area near Laramie Wyoming, and left to die. He was discovered eighteen hours later, laying in a coma, by a cyclist who at first thought that he was a scarecrow. He died a week later from severe head injuries.

For what reason was he so brutally murdered?
Because he was gay!

Let us remember Matthew Shepherd; and, make sure his senseless death is not for naught by doing what we can to stop the hate.


Scot said...

I, of course, never knew him, and many people are killed ever hour, nearly all with great human sadness in their wake. In that respect I find it strange how much his murder affected us.

That's one of the odd things about being in a minority group, I suppose. Though many people die each day, it's not everyday when when you see yourself and those you love in a death, and it's not every day that a death takes a bit of pleasant naivete and security to the grave for a whole group of people, and in such a brutal way.

Samantha said...

Sorry, but I'll set the record straight until I die.

Matt Shepard was not killed because he was gay. He was killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The crime was drug related.

I knew the young men who committed the crime. All three--Matt, Aaron, and Russell were drunk and high. Matt was accosted for money, the situation escalated, aided by being stoned beyond belief, and a young man was tortured and left to die.

The situation is tragic and deserved to be mourned, but Matt is not the poster child of gay hate crimes the world would like him to be. In truth, one of his attackers was a known bisexual who engaged in gay sex--not exactly a person who would wish to be known for killing someone who was gay.

The real tragedy: the same week a nine-year-old girl was abducted in Laramie. She was raped until she died, then put in a garbage bag and left in a landfill. When Matt's incident became a gay hate crime, everyone forgot the truly innocent little girl who wasn't on drugs, or in a bar, but simply playing in the back yard.

This week candle light vigils will be held for a pseudo-hate crime because no one wishes to know the truth, and no one will remember the name of the little girl kidnapped, tortured and raped until dead, then discarded as if she were garbage. Indeed--not just by her attacker, but by all of society who would rather have a "cause" than deal with a crime that was truly hateful.

Sorry to rain on your parade, but that, my friend, is the truth.

Scot said...

Samantha "Sorry to rain on your parade?"

Clearly this is a heated topic, but you really want to characterize this post as a parade?

I doubt anyone would dispute the horrible nature of the other case you mentioned. The worst part is that we all know the world is too full of such tragic murders and monsters. It's hard to think on it too long without becoming frozen.

Nevertheless, being tortured and killed is not any more okay for a kid getting a ride home from a bar than it is for a girl playing in the back yard. Both are worthy of outcry. Really, how do you tell a parent their child's murder got too strong of a reaction?

The ironic thing is it's the outcry that spreads the harm. Even if you're right about the facts, gay kids of all sorts around the country were harmed because the message sent was that, if they were out, they had to fear for their lives too, and they did, just like every time a child murder case is spread by the mass media every parent is similarly harmed. Unfortunately, it's not a choice between one or the other; we get both.

Maybe I don't have all the facts, Samantha, and if you can reference them that would help. I regret to say all I've got is the wiki article, which disputes some of your claims, but if it's wrong I'd still like to know.

Abelard Enigma said...

My beloved Samantha - I beg to disagree with you.

It is true that the lawyers for the defendants attempted to use a, so-called, "gay panic" defense arguing that their client went into a blind rage after Matthew Shepard allegedly made an unwanted pass at him. But, this strategy was disallowed by the judge; although, it was picked up by the media and given undue attention by a 20/20 segment where those convicted of the murder gave details of the events which contradicted their own testimony in the trial while under oath.

Retired Police Chief of Laramie, Commander Dave O'Malley, pointed out that the drug motive does not necessarily disqualify the anti-gay motive: “My feelings have been that the initial contact was probably motivated by robbery because they needed money. What they got was $20 and a pair of shoes ... then something changed and changed profoundly... But, we will never, ever know because Matt’s dead and I don’t trust what [McKinney and Henderson] said."

The prosecutor in the case charged that McKinney and Henderson pretended to be gay in order to gain Shepard's trust. During the trial, Chastity Pasley and Kristen Price (the pair's then-girlfriends) testified under oath that Henderson and McKinney both plotted beforehand to rob a gay man. They selected Shepard as their target, befriended him, and drove him to a remote area of Laramie where they robbed him, beat him severely and tied him to a fence with a rope from McKinney's truck. Both girlfriends also testified that neither McKinney nor Henderson were under the influence of drugs at the time.

While it is true that people die all the time - few die so brutally as Matthew Shepherd. Even just considering the brutal murders, including the tragic case of the nine-year-old girl was abducted, raped until she died, then put in a garbage bag and left in a landfill - while we cannot understand the motive - we may, at least, be able comprehend it - be it a robbery, a crime of passion, a drug deal gone wrong, etc.

I think what strikes a chord in many of us is that Matthew Shepherd was brutally murdered for simply being who he is - a man who happened to be attracted to other men rather than women. For me, as I'm sure it does for many who share this trait - it casts a long dark shadow. It is the boogie man we feared as children come to life. A monster who is revealed every time we hear people preach hate disguised as love.

Cases like the one you referenced create strong emotions in parents. They cause us to cling to our children more closely They create a perception that the world today is not as safe as the world we grew up in. There are things I did as a child that I would never let my own children do when they were young. Simple things like riding their bike around the block alone.

What can't we acknowledge that cases like Matthew Shepherd create similar emotional reactions in gay men? Why dilute the impact it has? Is it because it involves an openly gay man instead of a young innocent child?

Samantha said...

The girls testified many things under oath--but the truth is that anyone who saw and knew the three men and their girlfriends would have to agree that being smashed was a state of being. They were all kids. Naturally, they would say or do anything at the trial if they thought it might save them. And truly--no one knows what they would do in a similar circumstance.

The wicki-article reports the incident quite well, but as one who lived in the area and knew the people I will say that there is more than one incident when what was said was again recanted, changed, resaid--in short, you had a bunch of young adults in a panic.

My real problem is that we have to twist the truth for a cause--when no one really knows what the truth is. We have several obvious examples of gay hate crimes which we could use, but instead we choose one which does not have a cut-and-dried gay hate premise, is surrounded by doubts, and why? Because of the heinous nature of the murder. I pointed out a similarly heinous one--only to be told that it happens all the time...so...less valid? The crime I used as an example has no blurred lines. Perhaps if the nine-year-old was gay, she, too could be remembered?

Matt Shepard was brutally murdered in a horrible way, and certainly should be remembered--but with all the facts and non-facts represented, not just as a knee-jerk reaction because we'd like to feel we can be safe in spite of our orientations.

How about we use Charles Howard, Sakia Hung, Bella Evangalista? There's no question about why they were killed, no conflicting stories, but for whatever reason (perhaps because it didn't happen in Smalltown, USA) no one remembers them.

Don't mistake my intention here--I would never say Matt Shepard's death wasn't horrifying and tragic. It was. But it's not all that it's being touted as. And if Matt Shepard was as honest and sweet as everyone who knew him said he was, I don't believe he'd thank anyone for making the crime something it was not.

By the way, Cal Rerucha, prosecuting attorney for the trial (and also someone with whom I've had several dealings) never believed the crime was hate oriented. His investigations are always incredibly thorough, and had he found enough evidence to prosecute on such a defense, he would not have hesitated to do so.

We have enough implied truths in this country. It's irresponsible for the gay population to try to garner sympathy for crimes based on gender biases through one more implied truth simply because the it plays out well in a movie. Especially when concrete examples, not surrounded by doubts, exist.

Alan said...

Samantha - this is not a zero-sum game of Can You Top This. The publicity given to Matthew Shepard's murder does not mean that the cases of Charles Howard, Sakia Hung, or Bella Evangalista were any less tragic. Nobody has said that or even tried to imply it, as far as I can see.

We live in a soundbite world of symbols and of people whose tolerance for extended and complex analysis usually doesn't go very far. You are certainly free to point out whatever factual differences you can between popular perception and case particularities. It's a free country, thank God, and free speech is welcome.

That said, the fact is also that the circumstances of Matthew Shepard's death aligned in a way that makes him a potent symbol of where anti-gay prejudice can and sometimes does lead. This result transcends whatever differences you may believe to exist between specific facts of the case and how popular perception has elevated Matthew to symbolic status. He has become a focus of feeling, of emotion, and you can't get rid of feelings or emotions with logic. They are what they are. Like it or not, Matthew Shepard has become a symbol of how prejudice and ignorance can destroy someone innocent of offense. That is a powerful image. It does not hurt you or anyone else to acknowledge this, or to admit that whatever the details may have been, his death was a senseless tragedy that should make us all less willing to accept anything like it in the future.

Samantha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Samantha said...

As you have said, everyone loves a symbol. Lest you think his death was meaningless to me, I will tell you I have attended a gathering in Matt Shepard's honor on this day, because truly, his death was tragic and he deserves to be remembered--my reasons for remembering him, ultimately will be different from yours.

I stand by what I have said, however. Truth has always been of greater importance to me than sentiment, regardless of how much good is attributed to such.

I will now bow out and allow the eulogizing to continue uninterrupted by one who believes in whole pictures and real truth, not in opportune embellishment.

Abelard Enigma said...

My dear Samantha, clearly this post has struck a dissonant chord with you - and for that I am truly sorry. It was never my intent to create any sort of controversy - merely to point out that that it's been 10 years since Matthew Shephard's murder and that the fight to erase homophobia is ongoing.

Are we still friends?

Alan said...

Samantha - I feel sorry that you are so bitter about something. I hope you don't stay that way; life is too short.

It is unbecoming of you to suggest that persons who post here or who recognize the symbol Matthew Shepard has become do not believe in "real truth" and prefer "opportunistic embellishment." Please, no ad hominem attacks, even by inference.

You don't seem to have much faith in the power of symbols to move people to great achievements or to overcome obstacles. In fact, few things are as powerful to those ends. Clinical textbooks about rules of evidence may focus solely on "reality" and "facts" but they don't move people. We are creatures as much of emotion as of logic, at times more so. You will have only a partial understanding of human nature if you insist only on "facts" and "reality."

"Reason not the need," said King Lear; "allow nature no more than nature needs, [and] man's life is as cheap as beast's." People need symbols and archetypes and icons, even if their origins don't exactly match the later popular perception. In fact this has probably been true of every event or person ever elevated to symbolic status. Welcome to real life with all its complexities and paradoxes.

Meanwhile, don't be angry. The rest of us can "recognize the whole truth" and still remember Matthew Shepard as a symbol. No "opportunistic embellishment" there; please recognize that it may just be simple humanity, sadness at a senseless loss, and a determination not to let it happen again.

Queers United said...

so depressing, thanks for honoring him!

Philip said...

I remember the day the story broke. I wondered why after so many years of the Media ignoring gay murders that this one had caught the world's attention and then I read he was left on the fence like Christ crucified on the cross. It was the symbolism.

When I was a kid, I lived in neighborhoods where violence and murder were not uncommon. One day the Super killed a tenant in our apartment. The next day there was the Super on the front page. Tenant killing tenant not news. A Super killing a tenant because the tenant complained about lack of heat (my brothers and I slept with our coats on) news. Human interest.

The Media can't print all the murders so they hone in on certain things like symbolism or human interest among other things.


Beck said...

I'm not touching this one, but I've really enjoyed the discussion and learned a lot...

and I'm sure that Samantha still loves you Abe! :)

Scot said...

"I pointed out a similarly heinous one--only to be told that it happens all the time...so...less valid? "

My goodness Samantha, less "valid" of a what? A murder? I hope you can later come back and reread what I and others have written as I don't think it's what you've assumed.

The odd thing is that I think you're making a point similar to what I began with.

"Perhaps if the nine-year-old was gay, she, too could be remembered?"

First, no doubt she is. We all remember the deaths of those we love, from my grandfather by me to this little girl by her parents, and no one has suggested any life is worth less than any other. But, yes, not everyone gets mass media attention; that's more of an emergent, than conscious process.

For example, one could also ask: perhaps if that little girl was in beauty pageants she, too, would be remembered? Literally thousands of children go missing each year, more than a couple a day. How many of them do you or any of us "remember"? How should we best deal with such horror on a national level other than the, sure, imperfect way we now do it? If the little girl you want in the media was in the media instead of Shepherd, what would you say to a person, a parent of another little girl or Shepherd's mother, arguing some other person was more deserving of eulogy, remembrance and outcry?

The effect of all these murders are spread by single media cases, not a statistic, right? A good deal of the harm done to people through Shepherd's murder is found in how it spread and affected all people and took on the weight of other similar cases. Even if you're right about what happened that night, the rest is still real and damaging. It's not a problem of Santa, as much as it is of the "gifts".

Really, it's all tragedy and made more so by turning on each other for it.

kevin said...

Has anyone read Philip Roth? Roth was Jewish, and in one of his short stories (The Conversion of the Jews; it's a comedy)there is a little boy that is troubled by his mother, who, when an airplane crashed, counted the number of Jewish sounding names, and then called the wreck a tragedy because 8 Jews (his grandmother actually counted nine, but she counted the name "Miller" as Jewish). Anyways, the boy gets in trouble at Hebrew School, because he said he wishes that everybody who had died on the plane was Jewish so that his mother would have compassion for all the dead, not just the 8.

This situation is not the same. Nobody here has said that it is only a tragedy when a gay individual is targeted.

One terrible tragedy here is that there are still no laws against hate crimes in Wyoming, 10 years later. Even if Samantha is right, the fact that the crime was presented as a heinous hate crime should have been enough to prompt legislators into action.

But, sadly, ten years later, Matthew Shepard's death continues to be a tragedy. The lack of progress that America has made in the past ten years is a tragedy.

It is a tragedy that I have to tell people that gay marriage isn't a way for homosexuals to "force" acceptance of their lifestyles onto Christians.

It is a tragedy that there was a pro-prop8 poster in the basement of a campus building the other day.

It is a tragedy that, in many places, hate speech is protected under the first amendment. I'm all for the first amendment, but hate speech was not the reason it was written.

And yes, Matthew Shepard's death was a tragedy. And, while not forgotten, his death will be vain until something is done about hate crimes. The lack of hate crime laws in Wyoming is shameful.

Since the ten-year anniversary of his death is on Sunday, I am looking for a way to outwardly recognize it at church. Would everyone who attends a church on Sunday, of any religion, be willing to join me in something like this? I need some suggestions, too.

playasinmar said...

Somebody here is watching too much Lifetime.