By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"He was a loving child with a sense of humor, but he went through what all handicapped children go through with people's meanness," said Karen.
While he was articulate, he could not take care of himself. Finally, he was hospitalized. His doctor told Karen the boy was a hydrocephalic.
Michael eventually spent years in group homes. Though his mother and father both thought Michael needed a sheltered environment, when their boy came of age, no one had the power to keep him in a structured setting. "A year ago, he decided he was gay," said his mother. "I tried to explain the consequences of living on his own, but he wanted to experiment."
The state, no longer entitled to protect Michael from himself, armed him with a disability check. It was just enough money to buy the retarded boy his freedom, and, finally, his death. The predators pounced quickly on Michael. His mother explained that her son found himself in a physically abusive relationship with another man. Karen Despain had begun the difficult legal effort to get guardianship of her son.
"When we gave these people their civil liberties, people like Michael lost their safety," said his mother.
Karen Despain carried in her purse, every day, a letter from a child psychiatrist describing her son's complex problems. Whenever she became discouraged about the difficulty of getting legal custody of her grown boy, she would take the letter out and read it to herself.
The day her ex-husband called and told her that Michael was dead, Karen Despain took the letter out of her purse for the last time and put it in a final resting place. She does not ever want to read it again.
"I knew something was going to happen to Michael," she said. "I used to talk about it with his case manager. We both thought Michael would get one of life's little bounces, something that might bring him to his senses . . . not this."
And Karen Despain, who has talked so bravely about her son, can go no further without crying.
"I don't want him hurt anymore, even in death. He was hurt so much when he was alive. I'm 90 miles away; I trusted the police to do their job." @rule:
@body:We do not know so terribly much about Michael Despain. He saw a want ad in a paper advertising a room for rent, and perhaps it seemed like a haven from an abusive relationship.
It is not very likely that Michael Despain ever had the time to grasp clearly the danger lurking in his new neighborhood.
He called his mother on June 2 to tell her about his new home. Seven days later, he was dead.
Even these thin scraps of biography were unknown to the gay leaders who met on three separate occasions with police administrators, hoping to prod the authorities into investigating the possibility that the arson/homicide was a hate crime.
Nor did the community leaders have any thought that the police already knew full well about the gay bashing of Michael Despain. The homosexual and lesbian activists simply brought to the police a somewhat credible allegation from a television reporter. Wouldn't the police please follow up on the tip?
No, the police would not.
Gay leaders met again with police brass after my first column on the Despain homicide and, once more, they were confronted with the question that the cops had been throwing up to them from day one: We already have the perpetrator, Tyrone Davis, in jail; why does it matter if the murder is investigated as a hate crime? Why, indeed?
Many of you who are reading this column have made it clear that you ask the same question. Others are more direct. You write in your letters that you are exhausted by the whole notion of gay victims. The very idea offends your religious and moral sensibilities.
But I cannot believe that any of you actually tolerate feral packs of man-boys preying upon the weak.
There must be a proper entry in the ledger.
By tracking crimes, we can stay ahead of trends. We can also decide how to respond to problems--like gangs--that might otherwise go unaddressed. But there is more to keeping track of hate crimes than simple law enforcement efficiency.
I have a friend whose grandmother is nearing 100. To this day, nearly 30 years after her son's death in Vietnam, she still wells up with tears because our government was unable to produce her boy's body.
There is no peace for survivors until there is a final accounting. Until we know the truth, no matter how bad the truth is, we do not rest.
We have a fundamental yearning to lend order and to make sense of our tragedies.
Likewise, when the tragedy of violence without provocation occurs, it disturbs our very being.
Such acts must also be tallied and ordered.
This is how we understand ourselves.
From the first moments of life, we make judgments on how our hands are placed upon our children, whether in love or in discipline. We are particularly concerned about the innocent.