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WHY THIS YOUNG MAN'S DEATH MATTERS

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But I cannot believe that any of you actually tolerate feral packs of man-boys preying upon the weak.

And, no, it is not enough to simply arrest the Tyrone Davises of this world. Or the Omar Wellses and Lonnie Smiths.

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.

And the victims of hate crimes are innocents.
Anyone who is attacked because of his age, color, gender, nationality, religion and, yes, because of his sexuality, is an innocent.

Every bit as innocent as your child.
Hate crimes are not acts of greed or lust.
The victims have nothing we covet. They cannot behave in any way to protect themselves. The targets of hate cannot change their skin color, their god or whom they love to suit the rest of us.

They are truly defenseless, because it is their very life, not their acts, that provokes violence.

Now, you may strongly disagree with this point of view. The fact of the matter is, however, that homosexuals and lesbians should not have to go to the police with their hats in their hands begging for help in these matters. The law is their law, too.

The police had no right to hide the gay bashing of Michael Despain from the boy's parents. The police had no right to hide this violence from gay and lesbian leaders. And less than 24 hours after the cops' insistence that the hateful nature of this killing was irrelevant because the perpetrator was already in jail, Tyrone Davis was released for lack of evidence.

He joined the other two punks--Omar and Lonnie--on the streets of South Phoenix, where the number of helpless victims has been reduced by one.

@rule:
@body:"I spoke with Michael on the phone the night he died," said his mother. "I told him, 'I love you and I care about you, Michael.'

"Michael told me the owner of the building was going to throw the other renters out."
But the owner did not move fast enough. Denise, the crack head, was already inviting Omar and Lonnie into her apartment as Michael spoke to his mother.

"Michael met people easily," said Karen. "He was so very open. But he was easily intimidated and very vulnerable."
This is the boy who was burned so badly that when a police officer first saw the body, he thought it was the cadaver of a black man.

Michael was exactly what Omar Wells and Lonnie Smith needed to sharpen their canine teeth on: a retarded, gay man/child lately given to women's dresses and a pretend identity as Rolanda.

Karen has more comforting memories of her feckless Michael. She talks of the church full of people at his service, the joyous chaos of an old paper route that was too much for her boy, the deep happiness even a troubled life brings to a mother who cares.

She is also the kind of Christian who worries about the well-being of Omar, Lonnie and Tyrone.

Karen Despain got to tell Michael she loved him on his last day. Not many mothers can say as much.

But she still has questions the police need to answer before she rests.
The fact is, next Wednesday, Karen would surely have called Michael to wish him a happy 25th birthday. And I don't believe that she herself knows how she will get through that day.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey