Thursday, September 28, 2017

Missouri Transgender Teen Murder Renews Debate On Hate Crime Effectiveness

Ally Lee Steinfeld, a transgender teen whose birth name was Joseph Matthew Steinfeld Jr. The burned and mutilated remains of Steinfeld’s body were found in a bag stashed in a chicken coop in the rural southern Missouri town of Cabool, last week. Three suspects were arrested on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, and another was arrested on Monday, Sept. 25. 

From the Associated Press by David Crary--

Each year, for the past 3 years, LGBT advocacy groups have tallied the killings of more than 20 transgender people in the United States. Yet state or federal hate crime laws are rarely used to prosecute the slayings.

Now many LGBT-rights groups are questioning the effectiveness of the laws, saying they sometimes focus too tightly on individual acts without addressing underlying bias or wider violence. The volatile issue was back in the spotlight this week as Missouri authorities investigated the killing of a transgender teen who was stabbed in the genitals and had her eyes gouged out.

Investigators insist — without specifying a motive — that Ally Lee Steinfeld’s death was not the result of anti-transgender hate.

“You don’t kill someone if you don’t have hate in your heart,” said James Sigman, the sheriff in Missouri’s Texas County. “But no, it’s not a hate crime.”

Even if the case were deemed to fall under Missouri’s hate crime law, it probably would not result in a heavier penalty, since first-degree murder is already punishable by execution or life imprisonment.

Missouri is one of 17 states with hate crime laws that cover offenses targeting people on the basis of their gender identity. But those provisions have led to few prosecutions.

Steph Perkins of the Missouri LGBT-rights group PROMO and Jason Lamb of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys said they could not recall any crimes against transgender people that were prosecuted as hate crimes in the state.

On Wednesday, PROMO and the Anti-Defamation League jointly urged prosecutors to examine the possibility that Steinfeld’s murder was a hate crime.

“Not taking those steps conveys a lack of awareness about the transgender community and the threats of violence we live with every day,” Perkins said.

A 2009 federal law, inspired partly by the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, included gender identity as a category to be covered by hate crime provisions, but only last May did those provisions lead to a conviction for the first time.

A Mississippi man, Joshua Vallum, received a 49-year prison sentence in the 2015 killing of Mercedes Williamson, a 17-year-old transgender woman who was shocked with a stun gun, stabbed and beaten to death to keep Vallum’s fellow Latin Kings gang members from discovering the two were having sex.

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