An interesting case of backhanded compliments and implied accusations in the New York Times from this weekend. Their story deals with the Justice Department siding with and supporting a case in Iowa where a suspect is on trial for the murder of a transgender teenager. In a more normal world, the murder itself would be horrific, but the idea of the Justice Department lending some legal aid to the prosecution would just be another day in the office. Not in the Gray Lady, however. They can’t even make it through the title without baldly stating that such a thing is out of character for Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Aiding Transgender Case, Sessions Defies His Image on Civil Rights
The Justice Department has dispatched an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender high school student last year, a highly unusual move that officials said was personally initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In taking the step, Mr. Sessions, a staunch conservative, is sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively.
The Justice Department rarely assigns its lawyers to serve as local prosecutors, and only in cases in which they can provide expertise in areas that the federal government views as significant. By doing so in this instance, Mr. Sessions put the weight of the government behind a small-city murder case with overtones of gender identity and sexuality.
It goes on in this fashion for the entire article. What should have been a story about a brutal murder was instead turned into one stunned exclamation by the reporter (Matt Apuzzo) after another about how out of character and shocking it was to see Sessions personally direct a federal hate crimes attorney to Iowa to work on the case. In reality, the story would more properly have been about the tragic case of 16-year-old Kedarie Johnson of Burlington, Iowa.
The boy was gay and “identified” as neither male nor female according to the father. (Who refers to him as his son which is good enough for me.) The details are still fuzzy, but somebody accosted him on his way home and shot him to death. It may or may not have been because he was gay, but it was a brutal, violent murder beyond a shadow of a doubt. So why would the federal government be involved if the locals have a suspect in custody and believe they’ll get a conviction?
That’s the only really surprising part of the story as far as I’m concerned, but not because Jeff Sessions is “anti-gay” or anything else. Sessions has long correctly held the position that so-called hate crime laws are bogus because they are actually cases of thought crimes. What the perpetrator was thinking when they fired the shots which killed Johnson is irrelevant. You’re allowed to think whatever you like, no matter how hateful or repugnant. But you’re not allowed to shoot people. That’s murder.
Since we’re stuck with these hate crime laws on the books for now, should they apply to transgender individuals? Well, it seems like we apply them to everyone else outside of the cisgender, heterosexual, non-disabled, Christian, caucasian patriarchy, so why not? Whether you believe in the unscientific fantasy of people being able to pick their own gender or simply hold that transgender individuals are suffering from a mental illness, the end result is the same. You’re not allowed to beat up or murder the mentally ill. And if we’re going to be enforcing these so-called hate crime laws it would apply there as well.
So in that sense, it may seem unusual that Sessions would send a hate crime prosecutor to Iowa to step into this case. But then, he is the Attorney General of the United States and we currently have these laws on the books for better or worse. It’s not exactly shocking to see the head of the Justice Department actually ledning resources to enforce the law. But it would be more interesting to see the New York Times actually focus on the crime and not how shocking it apparently is for them to see the Attorney General enforcing the law.