Thursday, 2 October 2008

Throwing the Book at Them

Three men charged with assaulting a transgender woman in Lowell in June 2007 pled guilty this week to charges of assault and battery for purpose of intimidation due to sexual orientation and civil rights violations. Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone’s office had urged Superior Court Judge James Lemire to sentence each of the men to one year in prison, but the judge instead sentenced each of the men, Jonathan Artis, Jules Ruggs, and Jeffrey Buchanan, all 20 years old and all from Lowell, to two years probation, 50 hours of community service, and diversity training.
The three men attacked the victim, Jenine Nickola, in the early morning hours of June 2, 2007, as she walked home on Bridge Street. They followed her, shouting and calling her "faggot." Nickola headed towards the nearby Centerville police precinct, but when she was 200 feet from the building the three men hit her in the head from behind and repeatedly assaulted her, continuing to shout slurs and telling her, "We don't like your kind in our neighborhood." The attack left her with severe lacerations to her lip and strained back muscles. Once the men left Nickola went to the police, who caught the three men about 20 minutes later.
Massachusetts hate crimes laws do not cover crimes motivated by gender identity or expression... Scott said Leone’s office was likely able to bring charges based on sexual orientation since the attackers shouted anti-gay slurs during the assault.
- Bay Windows.

Now if they'd just said "filthy tranny" instead of "faggot", then they would have gotten a lesser sentence. Perhaps a light tap on the wrist or a stern talking-to, instead of 50 hours of community service.
Although she was initially described in press statements by Leone’s office and in the press as a gay man targeted for his sexual orientation, Nickola appeared at a June 7 vigil in Lowell in response to the attacks, and she told her story to the press and identified herself as a transwoman. Despite her public identification as transgender LeoneĆ­s office has continued to describe her as a man targeted for his sexual orientation. Gunner Scott, executive director of Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), said it was disappointing that Leone's office is not acknowledging her gender identity.
"As far as the DA’s office goes it sounds like they need training. ... I can only imagine how difficult it must be to work with the DA’s office when you’re not being respected with how you identify," said Scott.
Perhaps not even a tap on the wrist then.

I can't help wondering what would have happened if an African student had been targeted the same way, not even 100 yards from a police station. And if the attackers had shouted "Nigger!". I think that maybe we wouldn't have to read about it in a minority news outlet, and maybe the sentence might have been a little more severe. Just a bit. Mind you, it's only a hunch.

And in other news...

This death is now described as "suspicious", and Homicide detectives have been assigned to the case.

Murders of Transgendered people in the USA are still running at about once a fortnight. The majority are Black or Latina transwomen.


Sevesteen said...

I still don't see why the hate aspect is relevant. If you are the aggressor in a significant unprovoked assault, you should go to jail. The victim being black, transgendered or liberal isn't provocation or mitigation.

I also don't see the point of diversity training--The lesson should be "don't assault people" not "don't assault people different than you". Is there any evidence that mandatory diversity training does anything? The kind of people forced to take it are more likely to learn tips on what is particularly insulting, to be used in future harassment.

Unknown said...

@sevesteen: Because a crime against one member of a group or class of people, primarily because that person is a member of that group or class, is in effect also a crime of intimidation (assault) against every single member of the entire group, not just that one individual. It's similar to why genocide or "ethnic cleansing" is considered even more heinous than the mere mass slaughter of war, even if the war causes more individual deaths.

I don't think diversity training is about "don't assault human beings" so much as "your attitude seems to indicate you don't consider people who are/do X to be human beings, so apparently we need to bring that fact to your attention."

Sevesteen said...

The law should be as simple as practical. I see your point re: intimidating others of the group, but I don't see enough practical difference between all the permutations of assault and hate crime. I'd rather effort be spent in keeping violent people off the street in general, rather than figuring out which classification their victim is in.

You might be able to teach someone the right answers to the diversity training class, but I'm highly doubtful that you can do much if anything with the attitude. I doubt we are really disagreeing all that much in the appropriate punishment--they got off too easy.

Unknown said...

@sevesteen: agreed, it's important that laws be practical, and I haven't seen evidence either way on the effectiveness of hate crimes legislation. It seems "right" and "just" to me but I can't say for certain it works or helps.

I also am sceptical of how effective diversity training really is, as generally implemented; as my dad is fond of saying, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." I think it could be done more or less effectively, depending on the approach and the individual, but I wonder how often it actually is.

On the bottom line we are in complete agreement. Battery, even a first time offense, deserves more than probation even if it's not "for purposes of intimidation due to [perceived] sexual orientation." In fact that seems to have worked against the victim in this case, in spite of the hate crimes add-on; I doubt they'd have gotten away without prison time if they'd done something like this to a natal woman.