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Ryan Conrad's new anthology critiques hate-crimes legislation
For years, the conventional wisdom has been that hate-crimes legislation represents a human-rights advance for members of the queer communities. These laws will help to lock up more bigots, the thinking goes, and will focus more attention on homophobic and transphobic violence when it occurs or increases.
 
But in the book Prisons Will Not Protect You, a group of writers, activists and academics dissect the arguments for hate-crimes legislation, suggesting such laws only feed into a prison-industrial complex and ultimately do not reduce such crimes.
 
“With this anthology, we wanted to highlight how the prison system really hasn't worked, both historically and presently, to our benefit,” says Ryan Conrad, the book's editor. “Some of the essays describe hate-crime laws as a form of prison expansion that has no proven record of preventing or reducing anti-queer and anti-trans violence. The second half of the anthology teases out the ways in which the prison system itself is a site of anti-queer and anti-trans harm.”
 
Xtra chatted with Conrad about the book prior to its Toronto launch.
 
Xtra: Many activists who favour hate-crimes legislation have said that without it, crimes directed against specific minorities are not properly classified and recorded by police.
 
Ryan Conrad: In the United States, data collection regarding anti-queer and anti-trans violence has largely been legislated separately, beginning with the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, from hate-crime laws regarding penalty enhancement, in this particular case the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Regardless, this data collection depends on being able to prove what is essentially a thought crime, which is a difficult thing to do legally (hence the low prosecution and conviction rate for so-called hate crimes). Not to mention that anti-queer and anti-trans violence at the hands of the state (cops, prison guards, immigration officers, et cetera) will never be recorded or redressed. For us, it's not simply about incarcerating the right bodies, but about trying to work towards a society with models of accountability that don't rely on incarceration.
 
In the US, the country with the largest prison incarceration rate in the world, many of your arguments resonate very strongly. But we don't have quite the same issues in Canada. Does this book have applications here?
 
With the current Conservative government and their ramming through of Bill C-10 [the Safe Streets and Communities Act] just last year, Canadians are going to have to deal with many of the problems associated with the criminal punishment system in the United States. Canada also leads the world in criminal convictions for HIV nondisclosure, an issue that will disproportionately affect queers. The prison industrial complex on both sides of the border is murderous and must be challenged by queer and trans activists.
 
You bring in some Canadian activists who specifically address the criminalization of HIV.
 
Both of the chapters challenging the criminalization of HIV nondisclosure and sex offender registers were written by Canadian-based activists primarily working out of Montreal. Folks involved with those two pieces work with groups like PolitiQ - Queer Solidares and the Prisoner Correspondence Project. These folks are demanding that we rethink the models of criminal punishment currently being offered as solutions to social problems and that we work towards better models of collective accountability and self-determination. There are a lot of really great folks in both the United States and Canada working against the prison industrial complex with the intention of building a better world in which all of us can not only survive, but thrive.
 
What was your biggest revelation as you put together this anthology?
 
I am really in awe of all the queer and trans folks engaged in challenging the prison industrial complex. There are so many folks in North America and elsewhere doing really interesting and important work around this issue, and I'm excited that this small anthology helps highlight some of that work.
 
 
 
 
 
  

Comments

nice theoretical work w/ no real world application
First off I haven't read this book so am limited to what I've heard about the group "Against Equality" behind it. They focus solely on theory ignoring real world lived experiences. That's fine so long as they don't try to apply their theory in the real world. In the real world laws are not just words in a book but a teacher of what that society considers right and wrong. In a perfect world there would be no need for hate crime laws nor for prisons or laws at all, of course such a world has never and will never exist. Hate crime laws teach that its wrong to assault someone just because of who they are. That's an inportant statement of societal values. The vast majority of humanity doesn't have the luxury of debating theory, they're too busy struggling to survive. Our system of laws provides easy to understand societal norms. There is much to be criticized about our justice system and the reliance on prison but that has nothing to do with the value of hate crime laws. Theories not based on lived experiences are worthless outside the classroom. Obviously hate crimes against queers exist in reality, so what do they propose to do about it? Or do they even address alternatives? I'm also extremely opposed to their opposition to equal marriage claiming queers should reject traditional relationship forms. Those who wish to do so should be free to do so but fighting against the personal freedom of other queers to make their own relationship choices if that means marriage makes them no better than those who would deny equality for queers out of bigotry. Any ideology that does not have personal freedom at its core tends towards totalitarianism. If they actually cared about the fate of queers in the real world instead of theory & selling books they'd be fighting for the right of all queers to choose their own relationships instead of working to impose their own beliefs on others by supporting the denial of marriage equality & legal protections against hate base
correction
That would be "self-determination" in the second sentence.
Depending on the Issue, Prisons Will Protect You
Removing violent hate criminals from society is "social accountability". It ensures the right of innocent LGBTs to ""elf-determination". Now, I would agree that there are some arbitrary reasons we put people in prisons. These must be dealt with and debated on a case-by-case basis. Doing away with the entire prison system also seems to be a whole other debate. Admitedly, I haven't read the book. The interview seems to obsfuscate from the issue of hate crimes, other than to say the conviction rate is low and these can be a challenge to prove. Were the possibility to hold someone accountable who targeted LGBT, not to even exist, what would be the conviction rate then? Doesn't investigating potential motives help to obtain a criminal conviction? People aren't convicted on thoughts alone. The thoughts must be put into action. It's not "though crime", as Conrad suggests. He refers to "so-called hate crimes". Does he believe such targeting of LGBT to exist? We can be sure it's reality. LGBT mistreatment in the prison system is a red herring. Put the right policies and laws in place which recognize the human rights of LGBT to best deal with those issues. Laws around HIV disclosure seem to be affecting straight people to a great degree, from the convictions of which I'm aware. Although, clearly there are more gay men with the disease, so the potential is there. It's not only a gay male's issue and others are caught up in that net of criminalization, rightly or wrongly. I think this post is long enough, so I won't discuss that subject now. People aren't targeted for hate crimes because they are straight, LGBT are.
Mixed messages
On on the one hand, Xtra runs articles attacking Conservative and Republican politicians who oppose same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation to protect LGBT people. On the other hand, Xtra lauds and promotes Ryan Conrad - who opposes same-sex marriage and hate crimes legislation to protect LGBT people! Does Conrad have a really big dick or something?
Islamophobia vs. Homophobia
Homophobia vs. Islamophobia - Know which is real. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RfJ6FpabknY
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