Ky. Voices: Hate-crime trial revealed deep dysfunction

The very first prosecution charging a violation of the sexual orientation section of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act ended last month at the federal courthouse in London. Both defendants were acquitted; however they were found guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy. I was one of the 12 who decided their fate.

The testimony provided more evidence that the eastern parts of our commonwealth are suffering. Perhaps more important than any other ailment that affects the rough underside of the "holler shack" or the "sagging modular home" are the dysfunctional families who live in them.

Many were the stories of multiple stepfathers, stepmothers, young deceased parents, uncles and aunts as parents, single parents, teenage parents and siblings who had only met a few times over a period of years.

The effects of constant drug use and easy availability of prescription drugs were a mainstay of the trial. Rampant abuse describes the situation best. Drug use gives rise to the problem of lying to conceal the dealer and the user. The number of untruths told and later exposed was nothing short of amazing.

The sexual diversity among those seriously affected in some way by the trial proved remarkable. Some were gay, some straight, but most leaned bisexual and the interaction among them bordered on the bizarre.

The work habits were not substandard as one might think. Many worked hard at jobs here and there, but the jobs were low paying and often difficult. The chances of making a decent living were limited.

As we listened to the testimony of the young people who were put on the stand, I began to realize that running parallel to the tragedy of the dysfunctional family were those teenagers and the other young people who had quit high school. Most of the teenagers and young adults who appeared in court did not graduate.

As a very young mother, only after being temporarily released from jail, testified in court, she spoke of her need to see her very young baby. A deputy sat behind her as she wondered if she would ever again hold her. She ended her formal education as a freshman in high school, yet she continues her life's education from a jail cell.

There is a large percentage of the population that the more prosperous of us would sooner forget. An afflicted culture breeds stagnation and a sense of inadequacy for those who live in it, along with the burdens of dependency and ignorance. Such a culture also directs those who reside there to express emotions negatively while personal energies and abilities are misused to the individuals' own detriment.

Many tears were shed during the trial, but not to gain sympathy. Tears shed for a very young baby that a very young mother can no longer hold; tears from a distraught teenager who was forced to betray his own brother; and the anguish of a sobbing man who will probably lose to prison the nephew he raised as his own. So, too, the cries of an injured man desperately begging for help from anyone who might hear him.

President John F. Kennedy said in a 1963 speech at the American University in Washington: "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man."

If the president was correct, there must be an answer to our problems. We must make fundamental changes in our rural communities.

Laws are easy to pass, often as a knee-jerk reaction to some real or perceived moral threat. But laws are usually passed as a cure-all, never considering or trying to solve the inherent reasons for their passing.

Finally, as we listened to the last of the testimony, it was as if we were watching a documentary about our beloved Appalachians. A very humble little lady and Sunday school teacher who attended a small church in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky testified. She related that for the last 40 years she had strived diligently to teach each of her Sunday School students to love everyone, regardless.

It seemed like such a simple lesson; to love one another regardless of race, creed, color or any other perceived difference. As we consider solutions to our afflictions in these mountains, perhaps this simple and time-proven truth from one of our own would be a good starting point for us all.