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The Life and Tragic Death of Dionte Greene

Black, gay and shot dead in his own car

In the minds of Greene’s family and friends, there is no doubt that he was murdered because he was gay – probably, they say, by the man he decided to meet. But in the eyes of the law – or at least law enforcement – that man’s alleged sexual interest in Greene means this killing and others like it cannot be considered hate crimes. One human’s self-doubt can be the end of another’s life, and even with hate crimes on the rise across the US, that letter of our lethargic law means we’ll never know about violence we’re already not doing enough to prevent.

“My son … he was quiet – not a problem child,” Coshelle Greene told me late last month, as a nation began to confront what justice looks like for young Black lives lost too soon. “Being that he wasn’t a street person, and didn’t have enemies, I lean towards it having to be someone who was on the down-low or someone so against gay people that they would do this.”

Greene’s mother and many of the other people I interviewed in Kansas City fear that since Greene’s body was discovered in a low-income, high-crime area that is predominantly Black, his case will merely be classified as another crime against a Black person by a Black person – rather than a modern kind of true crime against a gay man who was also Black, by a man who may have been afraid of the truth. And they should be worried, because justice vanishes too often with cases that force police departments and even the most progressive communities to consider victims who lived at the intersection of multiple sexual and gender identities – the complex people who are at a much higher risk of facing hate-motivated violence, or even perpetrating it. Especially when you’re Black. Especially when the cops would rather not check an extra box.

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