Book Review: Another Life Altogether

We all long for “another life altogether” at some point. Thirteen-year-old Jesse Bennett has more reason than most to want to escape into another life. She has lived all her life with her mother’s eccentric behavior, which has just culminated in a suicide attempt and hospitalization. Even though she knows that she will be found out eventually, Jesse tells her classmates that her mother is away on a world cruise that she won in a contest. To bolster her story, she writes detailed letters which are supposedly from her mother (after having researched each destination) and reads them aloud in home room.  Of course, in a small town news travels fast and Jesse’s ploy is revealed–and ridiculed. Soon after her mother returns from the mental hospital, her father moves them to an even smaller town in the hopes that they can all get a fresh start.

Jesse is pinning all her hopes on this opportunity to start over. She “providentially” makes friends with a girl who is popular at her new school and she resolves to do everything she can to keep her position in the “in” crowd. At the same time she develops a crush on an older girl and she escapes again into writing letters that she never sends, this time to the object of her affections about their “life together.”

Meanwhile, at home, Jesse worries constantly about her mother, fearing that she will try to kill herself again. She has to take over a lot of the familial responsibilities while her father alternates between denial and hare-brained schemes to help his wife to “snap out of it.” Further complicating her family life is the boyfriend of her aunt who secretly torments her and her jail-bird uncle who comes to live with them after his release from prison.

Continue reading “Book Review: Another Life Altogether”

Hate Crimes Legislation Debate

Jos, on Feministing, is against hate crimes legislation for several reasons, one being:

“Hate crimes legislation puts the power to bring and pursue such charges in the hands of a law enforcement and criminal justice system that disproportionately targets marginalized communities. As a result, hate crime charges are brought against black folks for allegedly targeting white folks and against queer folks for allegedly targeting straight folks. In fact, as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) points out in their non-endorsement of GENDA, so called anti-white hate crimes constitute the second highest amount reported by the FBI. Self defense in the face of a racist, homophobic or transphobic attack can equal a harsher sentence for the person being attacked in the first place.”

Read entire post here.

The SRLP’s statement includes their assertion that “[hate crimes legislation] encourage[s] us to lay blame and focus our vengeful hostility on one person instead of paying attention to institutional prejudice that fuels police violence, encourages bureaucratic systems to ignore trans people’s needs or actively discriminate against us, and denies our communities health care, identification, and so much more.”

The SRLP’s interpretation of the FBI statistics is misleading. Anti-white crimes may be the second most numerous type of hate crime based on race, but they still only constitute 18.3% compared to the 69.3% of the race crimes that are anti-black. Big difference. Also, the FBI statistics don’t even include a separate category for transgendered individuals.

Jos’ objection, “the fact that hate crime legislation does not have any quantifiable positive impact makes it a very poor reason to go against my larger belief about prisons” is a legitimate one. But I don’t understand a view that is willing to let hate crime perpetrators off the hook. Ideally, laws reflect the values of a society but sometimes they help to bring about change in those values. Hate crime legislation is both. There are still a lot of people in this society who think it is all right to commit crimes against persons and property base on race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/nationality and disability. They need to be shown in no uncertain terms that our society will not stand for that behavior.

Meanwhile, I agree that other means to change people’s attitudes should be employed. But that kind of change can be slow in coming. Jos’ assertion that “harsher sentencing does not decrease the amount of hate crimes being committed” may be true, but not making laws against them implies a tolerance that our society cannot afford to exhibit.

The Matthew Shepard Act that is now going through Congress is an example of the attempt to tighten hate crimes laws. It seeks to achieve three objectives:

1) Expand the law to authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Current law only includes race, color, religion or national origin.

2) Eliminate a serious limitation on federal involvment under existing law which requires that a victim of a bias-motivated crime was attacked because he/she was engaged in a specified federally-protected activity such as voting, serving on a jury or attending school.

3) Add “gender” and “gender identity” to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act*

This does not seem to be too much to ask.

*Source: Matthew Shepard Foundation

Sexual Hate Crimes

The FBI shows [see below] that hate crimes based on sexual orientation are the third most prevalent type. That’s why it doesn’t make sense that George Bush vetoed the Matthew Shepard Act when it landed on his desk in 2007. This legislation would have protected people from hate crimes on the basis of perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

For those who don’t know the story, Matthew Shepard, age 21, was tied to a fence post, tortured and beaten and left for dead by two other young men. He was found 18 hours later and was pronounced dead five days later. The defense tried to use a “gay-panic” defense as a way to circumvent any affiliation with hate crimes, but the fact is, the perpetrators couldn’t have been prosecuted for a hate crime anyway, because Wyoming didn’t recognize sexual orientation as one of the “conditions” that precipitates hate crimes. It still doesn’t. (It is not the only state that does not have such legislation; at last count there were 18 more who have ignored the importance of legislating sexual hate crimes.) Huffington Post article about this here.

This is not the only time a person has been beaten or murdered for having an sexual orientation that is considered by some to be deviant. Some well-known victims include Brandon Teena and Angie Zapata. How many more have to die before sexual hate crimes will be prosecutable nation-wide?

An FBI 2008 press release about hate crimes in general reported that “of the 7,621 single-bias incidents [in 2007], 50.8 percent were motivated by a racial bias, 18.4 percent were motivated by a religious bias, 16.6 percent were motivated by a sexual orientation bias, and 13.2 percent were motivated by an ethnicity/national origin bias. One percent involved a bias against a disability.”

The only reason I can think of why President Bush would have vetoed the Matthew Shepard Act is because he thinks violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals is justifiable. And that is just plain sick.