Hate Crime for White Man Killed for Having Black Friends?
A Louisiana man who was apparently killed because he had black friends could be the subject of a federal hate crime trial, experts believe. Michael Luke Darby, 24, was stabbed to death by assailants last month after he left a bar with two black companions. Two men have been arrested for the murder after Darby’s body was found behind some bushes in Lafayette.
According to local news reports, on Oct. 14 Darby and his friends were confronted in the street after a night out by three drunk men who began shouting racial slurs at them and questioned why Darby, who is white, would be hanging out with African Americans. After an initial fight, Darby’s friends went to get their vehicle to pick him up, but by the time they returned he had gone missing.
The next day Darby’s body was discovered. Kyle James Toups and his brother Travis Toups have since been arrested on murder and accessory charges, but state and federal officials have not yet indicated if they will be charged with a hate crime.
A hate crime is defined by Congress as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
The FBI reported 6,628 hate crime incidents in 2010, the last year for which data is available. Nearly half were racially motivated, and of those almost 70 percent by anti-black bias. However, Darby’s case would be unusual in that he wasn’t attacked for bias against his color, he was allegedly attacked because of bias against who he chose as friends. Does that still fall under hate crime statutes?
Probably, says Marc R. Poirier, a professor at the Seton Hall Law school. “Race is certainly in the air here,” Poirier says. “Basically he’s being attacked for not behaving the way they think white people are supposed to behave.”
Murdered Because of Friendships
About 18 percent of racially-motivated hate crimes reported in 2010 were for anti-white bias, and that could potentially be applied in this case even though Darby was allegedly killed not for being white, but for being white and having black friends. “You can say that if he was black, he would not have been attacked,” Poirier says. “Assuming you can prove that the cause was perceived race, that there was some kind of intent that had to do with race in the minds of the people who committed the crime.”
The victim’s family certainly thinks so. “There’s no doubt this was a racial crime, and there’s no reason why my son should have been murdered because of his friendships,” Darby’s father, Jerry Darby, told Hatewatch, an arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “These men belittled him and made fun of him because he was hanging out with his two friends who happen to be black.”
The era of modern federal hate crime laws kicked off with the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which gave specific protection to race, color, religion and national origin for people threatened or attacked for trying to carry out certain activities, such as going to school or applying for a job. In 1994 protections were also extended for ethnicity and gender.
In 2009, Congress enacted the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act which expanded the definition of hate crimes to encompass a bias motivation for any assault and added sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the list of protected statuses. Violators can be jailed for up to 10 years in addition to the sentence for the original crime.
In addition, Louisiana has its own hate crime law with similar language to the federal legislation.