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Statement of Cynthia McKinney on the Hate Crimes
Candle Light Vigil for Matthew Shepard

October 15, 1998

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to close your eyes for a moment. Yes, go ahead, close your eyes. Now, imagine a young man. Out for the evening, maybe having a drink, talking to his friends. Perhaps, thinking about some reading he has to do or about the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays that will soon be upon us. Now, imagine him talking to someone. Two men. They are friendly. They suggest a ride in the countryside. Perhaps, against his better judgment, he decides to take a ride. It's a beautiful night. There is just a touch of fall in the air. Now, imagine for a moment, the shock when the first fist flies in anger and hate. Maybe he tastes his own blood in his mouth. He hears the hateful words ... and then a flurry of fists and boots tear his world apart.

Imagine, for a moment, the pain ... imagine the terror. Imagine, imagine ... that he thinks it's raining ... because his clothes are wet. And, then, imagine ... that he realizes it's his own blood. Imagine the sounds ... of his skull cracking. Imagine ... the pain, the roar of death in his ears, the feel of a rope around his body as he is tied to a fence. Then, the terrible, awful quiet that comes before death under the wide western sky.

Do you see it? Do you feel it?

Now, imagine, imagine that it's your son ... or your daughter ... or yourself. Murder is murder. But a crime of hate ... is a crime against humanity. This young man's murder is a national tragedy. And in a circumstance like this ... you have to take sides. No fence straddling. No carefully crafted words of disapproval. You've got to choose sides. You must be the fist of hate ... or the shield of freedom. There is no middle ground. You are the fist. Or. You are the shield. I made my choice long ago. I chose against bigotry. I chose against hate. I chose not to be the fist. Today, again, I choose to be the shield. Now ... Trent Lott needs to decide. Now ... The Christian Coalition needs to decide. Those who lift their voices in condemnation need to decide. Even those who hide their hate inside their own hearts need to decide. That is Matthew Shepard's gift to us today. Through his death, Matthew Shepard offers us the gift ... of a choice. And I, for one, choose to be with Matthew. Thank you.

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