The recent attack downtown by two Beaufort-based Marines on a local gay man, Kieran Daly, was not the first such incident. Nor, it must be said, the first involving members of the military.
While there are two sides to every story and questions remain about the exact circumstances of the attack, it seems clear from the police report that Daly was at some point targeted for violence because of his sexual orientation.
He joins David Bennett, who in 2006 was attacked by five soldiers from Ft. Stewart, one of whom bragged afterward, “I beat that motherf***ing faggot up.” (This incident prompted a Georgia Senate committee to approve hate crime legislation, which never made it onto the floor for a vote. Georgia remains one of only five states in the nation without a state–level hate crime law.)
He joins Travis McLain, a local gay man who was beaten by someone who, while a civilian at the time, soon joined the Marines. (This incident prompted Savannah police to install an LGBT liaison officer.)
By far the worst incident happened in the 1980s, when a four Army Rangers nearly stomped a man to death after supposedly being the target of his advances. They were only found guilty of simple battery, their defense of “gay panic” essentially having worked — i.e., the absurd notion that receiving a gay advance excuses a straight man’s act of savage violence.
The recent incident with the two Marines was similar in that Daly allegedly also made advances, in this case by winking. That this is offered as an excuse for violence by anyone in this day and age seems bizarre. That two supposedly confident, well–trained Marines would be so disturbed by one gay man winking almost defies the imagination.
Yet there it is. And these are the guys who are supposed to be defending our freedoms.
Due to our relatively large size, our lively bar culture, and our central location to several military installations in Georgia and South Carolina, Savannah has always been a magnet for young soldiers, sailors and marines looking for a good time.
But unlike most other military cities, Savannah also has a large and influential gay community. The two diametrically different cultures often come into contact with each other, and too many times the result is what happened to Daly on June 12.
While acceptance of gays and lesbians has certainly come a long way in civilian life — if not in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” world of the military — the commonality of homophobic attacks proves there is still a long way to go.
I understand the point of view that says a crime is a crime no matter who the victim is, and there’s no need for new laws, just better enforcement of existing ones. But hate crimes really are worse than ordinary crimes, because they aren’t isolated or semi–random instances.
Hate crimes foster an attitude of intolerance toward certain groups and lead to continued violence against those groups — which is precisely why society has an obligation and an incentive to compound their punishment.
(And there is precedent for some crimes being treated differently depending on the status of the victim, i.e. crimes against children.)
Let’s hope that the two Marines who attacked Daly receive a fair trial, and if found guilty receive a punishment suited to the crime. And let’s hope that society, and the military, can continue to move beyond ignorance and prejudice.
A good start would be for the Georgia legislature to put a fair hate crime law on the books so we can join the rest of the nation.