What is a hate crime? The FBI uses this definition: “A criminal offense motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
Isn’t a crime a crime? Aren’t you just as dead if you are murdered in a “hate crime” as you are if you are murdered under circumstances that do not fit the FBI definition? Well, yes. And yet, the murder of Steven E. Nelson is a crime that cries out in a unique way to the conscience of our community.
Steven was a gay man who did not try to keep his sexual orientation secret. He went to Lake Lowell in the early morning hours of Friday, April 29 expecting to meet up with another man who he had agreed to pay for sex. It was an ambush. There were four men waiting for him. They savagely beat him and stole his car and everything he had with him, including his clothing. At 5:45 am he rang the doorbell of the closest home he could get to. He died at a local hospital that afternoon.
Before he died, he was able to give police enough information for them to arrest the four men who (allegedly) participated in this crime. News reports imply that it may not have been the first time these men had lured someone in a similar way and then had beaten him up. Previous victims may have been too embarrassed to report the crime.
Steven Nelson’s murder has not yet been officially designated a hate crime, but from the information released so far, it’s clear that’s exactly what it was. It doesn’t take much imagination to see in this crime a hatred of gay men and a perverted desire to punish them and humiliate them.
Murder is murder, but this murder, let’s hope will get our community’s attention and will unite us in condemnation, not just of the murder, but of the hate that was behind it.