Russellville, Arkansas – Jake Burris, campaign manager for Democratic Congressional candidate Ken Aden, came home with his four children to find their pet cat slaughtered on the front porch. “LIBERAL” was scrawled in magic marker on the lifeless body. In a clear example of terrorism, the innocent animal had been bashed in the head and left so that it could not be missed by Burris, who is locked in a tight campaign struggle against a right-wing Republican opponent to elect his candidate to the U.S. House of Representatives. But instead of Burris finding the carcass of the family pet before his children, his little boy found their kitty first. Blue Arkansas wrote movingly about this atrocity:
“This is terrorism. There’s no other word for it. A police report has been filed. Jake said the kids seem to be handling it okay. The one that discovered the cat was too young to be able to read and Jake had quickly gotten the others into the house before they saw it. Pope County is an insanely conservative area and the Aden campaign has been shaking things up even there and it looks like another right wing sociopath with a taste for violence has come crawling out of the woodwork in response. I asked Aden for a comment on the record:
‘“This is sickening. To kill a child’s pet…I’m at a loss for words…I’ve seen the best and the worst of humanity, but this is something else.”’
Defenseless, innocent victims pay the price of hate ideology and violence first–our pets. Violence against human victims is underreported, but statistics on this dimension of hate violence are non-existent. The numbers of pets slain in hate killings must be astronomical. Political liberals, progressives, LGBTQ people, women, racial/ethnic minorities have all experienced the terrible shock, anger, and raw fear Jake Burris and his family faced yesterday at the hands of irrational hate groups who send a message of terror by killing cats, dogs, birds and other family pets.
The murder of pet animals is often a prelude to anti-human violence. Gay man Charlie Howard found his cat dead on the front steps of his apartment in Bangor, Maine with its neck broken shortly before a gang of Bangor’s youth threw him off the State Street Bridge. Friends of Charlie’s said that after he found his cat killed, he became depressed and fearful. He had every reason to be, as it turned out. Charlie drowned in Kenduskeag Stream because three boys hated him because of his sexual orientation. The pet killing was a telegraphic message of homophobia, sent from people who warmed up to killing Charlie by taking the life of his companion.
I know the feeling that terrorized Charlie Howard and that the Jake Burris and his family face now. In the early 1990’s, I came home from pastoral hospital visits to parishioners to find my English Bulldog Buck and my Basset Hound Beau butchered, hanging up in a tree in my Eastern NC parsonage yard. Anonymous opponents suspected I was gay, and tried to drive me out of the church I was serving by slaughtering my pets. In those days, I lived a single, closeted life, serving churches with the fear of discovery of my sexual orientation. My dogs were my only companions, and paid the ultimate price because cowards thought I would run. I did not run. I stayed at the church and fought back successfully. But the loss is still with me.
Reuters reports that the campaign of Republican incumbent Steve Womack, Aden’s opponent in the heavily conservative 3rd District of Arkansas, has condemned the killing of Burris’s cat. Candidate Aden and Burris said they do not believe anyone in the Womack campaign perpetrated the crime. The Russellville Police Department is treating this incident as an animal cruelty case, and the investigation is ongoing. But the fact remains that the atmosphere of irrational hatred propounded by unreasoning prejudice is lethal.
Jake Burris told Blue Arkansas, “I’ve got a gun and I know how to use it. If I have to protect my kids I’ll do it without hesitation.”
We have a duty to all life to find a cure for hate. Our pets pay as terrible a price as we do because of hate violence. Perhaps the shock of a story like this can awaken the consciences of our neighbors to work with us to create a world safe for all creatures to live without fear. ~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Founder and Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, Associate Prof at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas
Tucson, Arizona – The toxic climate of hate speech in the United States has been named as a “suspect” in the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) on Saturday. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois used former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s inflammatory rhetoric (“Don’t retreat, reload!”) as an example of the caustic political climate characteristic of political speech in America, and called for all parties to refrain from demonization and hate speech, according to the Huffington Post and AP reports. Giffords was shot through the head, six others were killed, and a total of 16 people wounded in an attack on the Congresswoman’s open-air “Congress On Your Corner” event held in Tucson at a Safeway Supermarket location. A 22-year-old, Jared Loughner, was tackled by two attendees, and subsequently arrested for the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords. While the investigation is proceeding against Loughner, who may have ties to an extremist political group called “American Renaissance,” officials across the nation are decrying the hate speech so prevalent in American discourse on virtually every level of the nation’s life. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, Arizona, where the shooting took place on Saturday, told the Associated Press: “I think that when the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates and to try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has impact on people especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.” Sheriff Dupnik went on to liken Arizona as the “Tombstone of the United States,” in apparent reference to the lawless legacy of violence in the Wild West of the late 19th century. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona has issued a complaint against Jared Lee Loughner, charging him with federal crimes, including the murder of individuals performing their duties as government officials, and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Lawmakers are vociferously condemning the demonizing rhetoric of recent years in the wake of the shooting, but the roots of American hate speech and the culture of violence so rife in American life are being left untouched. For decades, minority groups like the LGBTQ community in the United States have suffered the effects of intolerance and hate speech, as well as the violence that such irresponsible language spawns. While pundits may debate the linkage between hate speech and hate violence, the dead in every state in the nation give mute testimony to the effects of bias-motivated acts carried out by individuals and groups espousing the sub-humanity of their targets. Hate speech leads to hateful deeds, as Sheriff Dupnik, making reference to the mental state of the assailant in Saturday’s attack, asserted to the Washington Post: “There’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol,” he said during his televised remarks. “People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.” U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein, who discovered the body of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk after his assassination, spoke to the consequences of hate-filled rhetoric: “I have seen firsthand the effects of assassination, and there is no place for this kind of violence in our political discourse. It must be universally condemned. We do not yet know the gunman’s motivations, but I am convinced that we must reject extremism and violent rhetoric.” Jared Lee Loughner is the prime suspect in the terror-attack on Congresswoman Giffords, Federal Judge Roll, and the other victims of the Tucson rampage. But bias-driven hate speech in American life, that terrorizes minorities, political opponents, and cultural adversaries, belongs in the dock in the wake of this outrage every bit as much as the man who was apparently motivated to kill and maim by the angry words he heard for most of his young life.
Washington, DC – On a red letter day when lawmakers voted to end the most notorious anti-gay policy in the federal canon, LGBT servicemembers and veterans who have been murdered because of their sexual and gender non-conformity must not be forgotten during the celebrations over passage of repeal of DADT. In a historic vote in the history of the human rights movement, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the ban on LGBT patriots from serving openly in the armed services of the United States. Saturday afternoon, 65 Senators voted for repeal with 31 in opposition. A simple majority of 51 was all that was required for passage of the Senate bill, which is identical to the one passed earlier in the week by the House of Representatives. Eight GOP Senators joined their Democratic colleagues to pass the repeal of the 17-year-old discriminatory policy that ended the military careers of 13,500 women and men because of their sexual orientation. Joe Manchin, the freshman Senator for West Virginia, was the only Democrat not voting for passage. According to the New York Times, his office informed the public that he had a “family commitment” he could not break.The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature to set the repeal in motion. GOP opponents of the repeal criticized the Democratic leadership of the Senate for the vote in the lame duck session just before the Holiday recess. Senator Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee, disputed the Republican claims that Democrats were ramming legislation through just to please the so-called “gay lobby.” In remarks to the New York Times, Senator Levin (D-Michigan) said: “I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.” Yet it is not only for the living that this vote is significant. Our military dead are honored by this historic vote to end anti-LGBT discrimination, among whom are far too many gay servicemembers who were killed because of their sexual orientation. Our gay military martyrs, murdered because of homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia in the armed services loom large in the memory of the LGBTQ community today because they are both a sign of hope and caution. They are a sign of hope that no more women and men need lose their lives in the military because of their sexual orientation and gender presentation. They are a sign of caution, because the passage of DADT repeal in no way guarantees the end of anti-gay violence in the military. We must name our LGBT military dead until violence against queer servicemembers ceases forever: Seaman Allen Schindler was beaten to death by shipmates in a public toilet in Sasebo, Japan. PFC Barry Winchell was murdered with a baseball bat in the Army barracks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Seaman August Provost was shot to death on base in San Diego, and then his body was set afire in a guard shack in the vain attempt to destroy evidence of the murder. Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher was lured into a fatal ambush by local youths near his home in Pennsylvania. These four are representative of the many more slaughtered by ignorance and hate by fellow servicemembers and civilians. Pundits say that after President Obama signs the Repeal Act into law, it will still take at least sixty days for the military ban to be lifted for LGBT military personnel. Until that time, the current discriminatory law stays in effect. But the culture of violence that harasses and kills LGBT women and men who wear the uniform remains virulently poised to take more lives until the root of fear is eliminated in the armed services. To that end, the historic passage of the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is simply the beginning of a new campaign, in the name of our gay military martyrs, to replace the fear and loathing of the sexual minority with education and respect.