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September 02, 2011

My Life Is Likely Less Valuable Than Yours

Posted in: Uncategorized

At Least That’s The Message To Me Because Of The Hung Jury In The Murder Trial For Larry King’s Killing

Update: From the Mistrial clouds fate of teen accused in slaying of gay student (emphasis added):

A judge declared a mistrial after jurors said they could not agree whether to convict Brandon McInerney, the middle school student who shot and killed a gay classmate during a morning computer lab.

Jurors deadlocked 7 to 5 in favor of voluntary manslaughter in the emotional two-month trial in the case of the stunning 2008 shooting inside an Oxnard classroom...

Wow. Just wow.

If you’re a heterosexual man or woman, and/or if your appearance is one where you’re perceived as not violating western society’s sex and gender norms, your life is more valuable than mine. That’s because I’m transgender.

Thumbnail Link: Equality California's (EQCA's) fact sheet for the Justice For Gwen Araujo ActAt least, that’s what the hung jury in Brandon McInerney’s murder trial for the killing of Larry King tells me. The hung jury in the case tells me gay panic and trans panic defenses — “blame the victim” defenses — are still alive and well in my home state of California.

The very first piece of legislation I ever lobbied for was AB 1160, the Gwen Araujo Justice For Victims Act — a bill that was supposed to make the use of “blame the victim” defenses ineffective. In 2006, I lobbied for the version of the bill that passed into law. Describing the final version of the bill, Equality California stated the following:

“AB 1160 would amend jury instructions to state that the use of societal bias, including so-called “panic strategies,” to influence the proceedings of a criminal trial is not permitted. It would also direct the Office of Emergency Services to develop materials for city and county prosecutors explaining how to prevent bias from affecting the outcome of a trial. This legislation is named in the memory of a transgender teenager from Newark, California, who was attacked and killed in 2002.”

There was a previous version of AB 1160 introduced in 2005 though. The description of that version of the bill, again in the words of Equality California, would have modified the definition of voluntary manslaughter to prohibit defendants from claiming they were provoked to murder by the sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression of the victim; but that version of bill couldn’t pass into law.

Let’s be clear: Brandon McInerney told a friend the day before he killed Larry King that he was going to bring a gun to school and kill Larry. He admitted bringing the gun to school; he admitted to shooting Larry King in the back of the head twice. What Brandon McInerney’s defense offered was a “blame the victim” defense — largely blaming Larry and E. O. Green Middle School administrators for Larry’s killing.

As I’ve written previously, when people who don’t conform to societal sex and gender norms are victims of violence because of how they express gender, those who perpetrate the crimes frequently blame the victim. We saw this “blame the victim” defense used at the Gwen Araujo murder trial where two of the killers received 2nd degree murder convictions, and two of the participants in the killing pleaded to lesser charges. Hate crime charges were filed for this Newark, California crime, but no one was found guilty of, or pleaded to, committing a hate crime.

The outcome of the two Gwen Araujo trials (the first trial also ending in a deadlocked jury) was a large part of why AB 1160 was introduced, and a version of the bill was passed into law. AB 1160 was supposed to make “blame the victim” defenses, based all or in large part on the minority status of the victim, ineffective.

Instead, AB 1160 has been shown to be ineffective.

When I covered the Angie Zapata Hate Crime Murder Trial from a Greeley, Colorado courtroom, I listened to a recording of Angie’s murderer say:

“It’s not like I went up to a schoolteacher and shot her in the head or … killed a law-abiding straight citizen.”

I realized after the verdict a few things about why a “blame the victim” defense didn’t work by the defense in that case: 1.) Angie wasn’t a sex worker, 2.) Angie was very out of the closet regarding her status as a transgender woman, and 3.) Angie wasn’t particularly confrontational against those who harassed her.

In response to being bullied for his gender expression, Larry King taunted those who taunted him. In my opinion, Larry’s confrontational behavior towards those who bullied him helps explain the hung jury.

The hung jury in this case feels very personal to me. The reality I perceive is that if I were murdered, my life would probably be deemed less valuable than the life of a non-transgender person. I fully grasp that transgender people like me are considered, by a significant portion of our society, to be deceptive in how we live our lives; that I’m personally considered, by a significant portion of our society, to be both sinner and subhuman.

If I were to be murdered, I fully grasp, too, that my words as a transgender civil rights activist may be used in a defense alleging I provoked my killer.

The defense’s success of a hung jury in the trial of Brandon McInerney tells me that my life is likely worth less than your life. If you don’t think that doesn’t send a chill down my spine, you’d be wrong.

Further reading:
* Jillian Todd Weiss at Bilerico: What The Hung Jury Means In The Larry King Murder Case

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