A New Twist on Hate

Years of hate drive a man to murder

by alex tagawa

Most hate crimes we hear about are motivated by racial hate. One famous example is the Vincent Chin case. Although Chin was Chinese American, his murderers thought he was Japanese and targeted him because they resented Japan’s success in the auto industry.

However, rarely discussed are the crimes committed by people in reaction to some sort of discrimination they experienced in the past. Should people who commit such crimes be held completely responsible for their action, or can their past experiences of discrimination somewhat mitigate their responsibility? This is the question that will determine the case of Steven Ronald Honma.

On March 20, 2010, Honma was charged for murdering Norman Schureman, an instructor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The murder occurred at a Persian New Year party in Westlake Village. During the party, Honma became upset after someone referred to his wife as a “Christian white whore.”[1] Honma left the party with his wife after the slur, but he later returned with a knife and two guns, and shot Schureman in an ensuing scuffle.

Honma’s attorney, Dmitry Gorin, claims that his client’s actions are a corollary of years of racial harassment. Gorin stated that his “client was ‘scarred’ by ‘tremendous’ discrimination during childhood as one of only a few Japanese-Americans in the San Fernando Valley at the time.” Gorin also said, “Mr. Honma has never hurt anyone before in his life. Mr. Honma has been married for over 18 years and is respected, beloved by his friends and family.”[2]

Gorin considers Honma’s actions a “textbook heat-of-passion incident,” which means that they lacked the premeditated element of a crime, instead arising due to sudden anger or sadness.[3]

Even if this is the case, it is important to investigate deeper into the causes of this incident rather than just looking at the surface. Honma committed murder over a racial and sexual slur, but most people do not murder over a single comment. Honma claims that years of discrimination and prejudice have “scarred” him. Perhaps this is true, and that comment was just the last straw for Honma to reach his breaking point.

Victor Hwang, managing attorney of the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, argues that “it is important for us to believe that the world is controlled by rationality. By assigning reasons to why bad things happen, we can learn from our experiences and change to avoid a reoccurrence.”[4] Perhaps Honma was never able to rationalize why he was racially discriminated against, and therefore was unable to learn how to “avoid a reoccurrence” of discrimination, which led to a mental breakdown resulting in murder. It is important to remember that Honma did not murder Schureman because he hated Schureman; Honma murdered him over a single comment made by somebody else.

Because Honma’s defense is based on emotional and psychological arguments, it will be difficult to convince the court. There is no hard evidence that the jury and judge can see from the defense. It may even appear to the court that Honma’s attorney is desperate to come up with ways to defend his client. Thus, there is a high potential that Honma’s past experiences of discrimination will not be factored into the final decision.

However, just because there is no hard evidence does not mean racial discrimination should be overlooked. Doing so would imply that ignorant comments like the one that brought about this murder are acceptable.

Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry, suggests that racial violence by victims of discrimination occurs because people who are racially discriminated against are usually made to feel inferior, and that they often need to find someone to blame for their inferiority, which ultimately leads to “paranoia and blaming others for your own failures.”[5] Racial violence is not as simple as a “heat-of-passion incident.” It is something that is built up over years of abuse.

As this case illustrates, lifelong racial discrimination really does affect the mentality of its victims. It is important for us to remember the power of words, and that what we say and do has the potential to affect people around us for the worse. Honma’s case is an indication that today’s society still needs to be educated on the potential of ignorant comments to affect – and even take away – people’s lives. As a hardboiled reader, it is important to educate others around you that racial comments are a serious matter that should not be tolerated.

[1] Foxman, Adam. (2010, March 25). Slaying possibly accident, lawyer says. Ventura County Star. Retrieved from http://www.vcstar.com/news/2010/mar/25/suspect-in-westlake-village-slaying-scheduled-to/
[2] Blankstein, Andrew. (2010, March 23). Years of racial slurs ‘scarred’ Japanese American gunman charged in teacher’s slaying, attorney says. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/03/man-who-shot-art-teacher-at-party-suffered-racial-taunts-as-japanese-american-lawyer-says.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TheHomicideReport+%28The+Homicide+Report%29
[3]Heat of Passion Law & Legal Definition. (n.d). In US Legal Definitions. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from http://definitions.uslegal.com/h/heat-of-passion/

[4] Hwang, Victor. (2001). The Interrelationship between Anti-Asian Violence and Asian America. In Anti-Asian Violence in North America: Asian American and Asian Canadian Reflections on Hate, Healing, and Resistance (pp. 43-67). Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.
[5] Martin, Michel. (2007, September 13). Poussaint Explains the Psychology of Terror. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14380947