The Other Side

As Judy Shepard finished her moving speech at All-School Meeting last week, I thought everyone around me was standing up because they had been dismissed. It turns out they hadn’t been given permission to leave but were applauding Mrs. Shepard. After awkwardly sitting there (still clapping), waiting for everyone else to be seated once more, my friend turned to me and called me “uncouth and disrespectful” for my inaction. While I sympathize with Mrs. Shepard and admire her actions, I could not bring myself to stand (the ultimate sign of applause) for her presentation. I agree with the students quoted in last week’s Phillipian article “Judy Shepard, Mother of Hate Crime Victim, Urges PA Students to Embrace Diversity” that Mrs. Shepard forced her beliefs on our “very aware school.” Our community has come to accept the idea of ASM speakers’ pushing their agenda on us. I do not mean this as an attack on Judy Shepard, someone whom I regard highly for her strength and courage to ensure that her son’s legacy will be a positive one. I can’t even imagine what she must have suffered, and I commend her for her actions. Instead, I would like members of the Phillips Academy community to recognize that every story, even one as devastating at Matthew Shepard’s, has two sides. An ABC 20/20 report “New Details Emerge in Matthew Shepard Murder” published on November 26, 2004 reasons that Shepard’s murder was not a hate crime (as Judy Shepard informed us), and cites drugs and cash as the motivation for the actions of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, not hatred of gays. According to the 20/20 report, immediately after Shepard’s body was discovered, his friends, Alex Trout and Walt Boulden, said they were concerned that the attack was directed at openly-gay Shepard because of his sexual preference. Statements by Kristen Price, McKinney’s girlfriend, helped fuel the gay hate crime theory. But Price later claimed that she made such statements because she thought the trial would go better for Aaron if his actions were seen as a panic reaction to unwanted sexual advances. Even Former Laramie Police Detective Ben Fritzen, one of the case’s lead investigators, told 20/20, “Matthew Shepard’s sexual preference or sexual orientation certainly wasn’t the motive in the homicide.” When directly asked if he targeted Shepard because of his homosexuality, Aaron McKinney, currently serving double life sentences, responded “No. I did not. … I would say it wasn’t a hate crime. All I wanted to do was beat him up and rob him.” Other controversies surround the trial such as McKinney’s addiction to methamphetamine, his relationship to Shepard as his drug dealer and even questions raised about McKinney’s own sexuality. Now, I “urge” students to do their own investigative work (a Google search will suffice) and learn both sides of the story and create their own opinions. I’m not disagreeing with Judy Shepard about the motive of the attack. I’m just a curious high-school student who googled “Matthew Shepard” one Wednesday afternoon. Both sides present an argument for the murderers’ motive, and I can’t judge who’s right. I just wanted to inform the community because I felt last week’s ASM was one-sided. Most importantly, I certainly do not intend to disrespect her son, Matthew, or her cause (a valiant one I might add). I’m just using her speech as a timely example that the PA community should not blame the administration for bringing in biased speakers (Kip Fulbeck anyone?), but instead do some research of their own. It’s not Judy Shepard’s—or any speakers’—job to show both sides’ argument, especially due to her personal involvement and limited speaking time. The audience should listen to everything with a copious degree of skepticism, and after further investigation, decide what to believe. Julian Chernyk is a three-year Upper from New York, New York.