Even Matthew Shepard’s
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Dear Representative Foxx,
It’s been ten years, seven months, and fifteen days since the night Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten, tortured, pistol-whipped so badly his skull was crushed, and, yes, robbed, and tied to a fence for eighteen hours in freezing temperatures, during which he sank into a coma before dying five days later. It is four weeks to the day since you stood on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and delivered your now infamous speech to your fellow Congressmen, constituents, the media, and, yes, watching from the House gallery, Matthew Shepard’s mother.
On that hallowed floor, Dr. Foxx, you said, and I quote, “The hate crimes bill that’s called the Matthew Shepard Bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay. This – the bill was named for him, hate crimes bill was named for him, but it’s really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”
Facts, Representative Foxx, are facts. They’re not malleable. They don’t change based on your opinion or that of your sources. They are “pragmatic truths”. And they can’t be cherry-picked to flesh-out a version of events that suit one’s purpose. Dr. Foxx, when you stood in front of your country and the world, on that Wednesday afternoon two weeks ago, however, that’s exactly what you did.
You may believe you have apologized, but you have not. You simply apologized for your choice of words. You apologized for semantics. You did not, however, apologize for the fact that you maligned the memory of a twenty-one year old, five-foot four-inch boy who weighted barely more than one hundred pounds. You did not apologize for getting the facts wrong. You added your voice to a lie. And that is unacceptable.
It is unacceptable to millions of Americans, some of whom, in North Carolina, you represent directly. It is unacceptable to millions of people around the world who hold the memory, and the very idea of what Matthew Shepard represents, in our hearts. It is unacceptable to me. And it is unacceptable to the nearly two thousand people, some of whom are your constituents, who very quickly after you spoke those now infamous, horrific words, joined a group dedicated to securing your resignation.
Representative Foxx, after reading your public statements, your voting history, and seeing the very manner in which you serve the people of North Carolina and this country, we do not believe that you understand the gravity of your actions, or the gravity of your office. You may be the elected representative of the Fifth District in North Carolina, but you are a United States Congresswoman. And as a United States Congresswoman, when you speak, America hears not the Representative from the Fifth District of North Carolina, America hears a United States Congresswoman.
We know you sent a letter of apology to Judy Shepard, and said, “If I said anything that offended her, I certainly apologize for it and know that she’s hurting, and I would never do anything to add to that.” But, Representative Foxx, you did. And you wounded millions of Americans with your uninformed and ugly rhetoric, you violated the trust placed in an elected official of The United States, and you violated the memory of Matthew Shepard. Saying “if” demonstrated, in yet one more poorly chosen word, your lack of understanding of the pain you have caused victims of hate crimes, their families, friends, and loved ones. Saying “if” demonstrated your lack of understanding of the significance of your office.
How can you deny facts, so many facts, not set the record straight, not say you were wrong? Even Russell Henderson, one of Matthew Shepard’s murderers, in the very ABC News 20/20 article you based your statement on, apologized. Dr. Foxx, we need a real apology, a real statement that says you understand the facts of the Matthew Shepard murder, and the reason it was, in fact, a hate crime. And we need you to understand that hate crimes are real crimes, far worse than isolated murders and violent attacks. As a lawmaker, you need to understand the difference between a crime and a hate crime.
A hate crime, in the words of conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, “is really two crimes — one against the individual and another against the group to which he belongs. By that definition, Shepard’s murder may be viewed as a terrorist act against all gays, who would have felt more fearful as a result.”
Perhaps, Dr. Foxx, not having been part of an oppressed minority, it is difficult for you to understand what it’s like to feel the fear of others who have suffered, knowing that, you, too, might one day befall the same fate, merely for the color of your skin, or your heritage, or for simply how you appear. What could possibly be worse than not supporting the idea of protecting those who need protection the most? Isn’t that what America stands for? Isn’t that the reason we, over the course of more than two centuries, have many times gone to war? How can you not support something so simple and so human as wanting to ensure all Americans feel free from the danger and harm that hatred can bring?
Representative Foxx, I invite you to reexamine your comments about Matthew Shepard. We need you to correct the record, apologize for the hurt and pain caused by not only your words, but by your position on the murder of Matthew Shepard and by your position on hate crimes. Apologize, and tell the truth: Matthew Shepard’s murder was a hate crime. If you feel these requests are too unimportant, then, Representative Foxx, you should consider the needs of the people of North Carolina and America, and let someone else, anyone who has the temerity for truth, take your place. Because, if you cannot realize that your understanding of the Matthew Shepard murder was wrong, that your words and your response were hurtful, and that your position on hate crimes is hateful, you may still be qualified to “hold office,” but you are in no way qualified to represent any part of this great country.
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.