A man died over the weekend. He was beaten and burned in a hotel room in Greensboro just a few days earlier, and he finally succumbed to his injuries at a Winston-Salem hospital. He was 46 years old.
Police have charged a 26-year-old man with first-degree murder. Before the victim died, the charge was aggravated assault with intent to kill. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
Authorities aren’t quite sure of the details yet, but they know one thing for sure: The two men met in a gay bar. They “hooked up” and went to the hotel together, and, according to the spokeswoman for the Greensboro police, the suspect “began acting incredibly irrational.”
Don’t worry, though, because this does not appear to have been a hate crime. The press has assured us — over and over again — that there is no evidence that this was motivated by the victim’s sexuality. No bias. No hate. Not a hate crime.
A friend of ours was annoyed with the emphasis on the victim’s sexual preference. Think about it, she said: Do the repeated references to the bar being a “gay bar” hint at bias? How does that even have bearing on the case? Are we supposed to dismiss it as a gay-on-gay crime? Are we supposed to think, “Well, of course the victim was assaulted — they met up at a gay bar.” If the victim were a woman, would the press still describe it as a gay bar?
Remember — our friend continued, by this time pretty steamed — we are the jury pool. After all this news coverage about the gay bar, the gay victim, his gay partner and the ostensibly gay suspect, how can we set the issue aside?
When O.J. Simpson was arrested, both Time and Newsweek published his mugshot on their covers. Time’s editors decided to darken the image, supposedly to make him look more sinister. “Sinister?” our friend practically spat the word. “The point wasn’t that he looked sinister. It was that he looked blacker.” She finally took a breath.
We found ourselves wondering, is the victim’s sexual preference central to understanding this crime? Will the prosecutor make it an issue at trial? Do the unremitting references to sexual preference give the jury pool the impression that this is the kind of thing that can happen to you or your children if they go to places “like that”?
Just to clarify, North Carolina’s hate crime statutes only apply to crimes motivated by “race, color, religion, nationality, or country of origin.” Sexual preference is not included. So why did the subject even come up?
The Times-Picayune, “Army vet dies from injuries in N.C. hotel after meeting man at gay bar; suspect charged,” AP, Nov. 15, 2014
N.C.G.S.A. § 14-3(c) Punishment of misdemeanors, infamous offenses, offenses committed in secrecy and malice, or with deceit and intent to defraud, or with ethnic animosity, via Westlaw