Since I wrote my last column, I have had a busy week. I began the week with a lecture at Yale Law School, which will soon be aired on CSPAN. That lecture was followed by an exciting exchange with brilliant law students offering insights from both sides of the political spectrum.
Although exciting, I was disappointed with one portion of the exchange, which occurred while a student was questioning my motivation for seeking to abolish speech codes on college campuses. During the exchange, he suggested that I was not concerned about hate crimes like the one involving Matthew Shepard several years ago in Wyoming.
The subject of hate crimes came up again on Thursday shortly after I finished a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. The context was a radio interview, which was followed by a brief question and answer session with listeners calling in to comment on the interview. One caller made the assertion that conservatives never suffer discrimination on campuses unless they engage in ?hate speech? likely to result in hate crimes against members of marginalized groups. When pressed for an example of such speech, the caller fabricated an example by misquoting a case I reported on a couple of months ago.
During both of those exchanges, I wanted to talk about the actual frequency of ?hate crimes? in our society, touching on crimes motivated by factors such as sexual orientation, religion, and race. I decided to shy away from the topic, largely because of the racial aspect of the argument.
In my experience, quoting statistics about the prevalence of black-on-white crime in America is usually a bad idea after the opposing party has started to levy charges of ?insensitivity.? While it is true that there are about eight black-on-white crimes of violence for every white-on-black crime of violence in America, quoting that statistic rarely motivates people to honestly consider black racism. In fact, if you are white and quote the statistic, you will probably be accused of racism. If you are black and quote the statistic, you will probably be labeled an ?Uncle Tom.?
When I returned home from Washington, I had almost forgotten about ?hate speech? and ?hate crimes.? I was just looking forward to spending a quiet weekend at home with my wife. When I asked her if there was any interesting news while I was out of town, she informed me that on Wednesday the first murder of a UNCW student had occurred on our campus. The student, Jessica Faulkner, had been killed in one of the dormitories.
Shortly thereafter, a UNCW student named Curtis Dixon was arrested and charged with her murder. He was also charged with raping and kidnapping her. Given that the suspect is black and the victim was white, I knew immediately that I would be hearing more on the subject of inter-racial crime and ?hate crimes? in the near future. Indeed, the very next day several people cynically asked me whether there was any chance that Dixon would be charged with a ?hate crime.? Their cynicism suggests that such charges are solely reserved for cases where whites are accused of murdering blacks.
On the issue of motivation, the university was very quick to inform the media that there was no history of tension between the two students. They also claimed that they had experienced no difficulties with the accused. However, after hearing those statements from the administration, I have had the opportunity to read the transcript of the 911 call that the victim?s father placed after the suspect allegedly called him to boast of killing his daughter. That call was made to a New Hanover County police dispatcher after some apparent difficulties in getting information from the campus police. Important portions of that transcript follow:
Faulkner: "Hi, my name is John Faulkner. My daughter is a student at UNC- Wilmington. She's in the learning community dormitory there. I just got a phone call from one of her classmates that said he murdered her."
Dispatcher: "Murdered her?"
Faulkner: "Yes, murdered her."
Dispatcher: "Have you contacted UNCW police?"
Faulkner: "I have, twice. These people aren't moving too quickly on this."
Faulkner: "The campus police said they have people in the area looking for a suspect. I could give a damn about a suspect. I want to know what's the status of my daughter."
Dispatcher: "Where is your daughter supposed to be right now?"
Faulkner: "She should be in her dormitory packing up to leave and come home for the summer."
Dispatcher: "Have you received death threats?"
Faulkner: "No. She's had a boy stalking her around for quite a long time, and we thought that had gone by the wayside, but he's evidently pretty serious."
Dispatcher: "Was it a previous boyfriend who made threats to you?"
Faulkner: "He was not a boyfriend. He was just a fellow student. He called here this morning. He basically wanted to date my daughter and she refused to date him, and now he basically called this morning and said he murdered her. "
This is a tragic case that will undoubtedly provoke a lot of emotional debate on our campus and in our community. If an indictment comes down for all of the crimes Dixon is charged with committing, the death penalty is likely to be sought. If that happens, campus debate on capital punishment will be intense.
If the death penalty is not sought, many will be talking instead about hate crime penalty enhancement simply because the alleged crime is inter-racial. That discussion will be expanded if the accusations of stalking have merit.
Before the broader issues of crime and punishment are broached, the university community must know whether this student was being stalked. If she was, did the university know about it? If they did, what measures did they take to deal with the problem?
To be continued.