WASHINGTON � Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese and Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, joined Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., today as they introduced the bipartisan Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Senate bill would strengthen the ability of law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute the more than 9,000 bias-motivated, violent crimes reported each year. An identical bill (H.R. 1592) was introduced last month in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
�For over a decade, a broad coalition of civil rights, law enforcement, religious and community organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, has been calling for justice. We have been asking our elected leaders to understand that bias-motivated violence is a persistent and pernicious problem in our country,� said Solmonese. �The statistics speak for themselves. Approximately 25 hate crimes are reported each day in our country. And more simply go unreported. One in six of these crimes is motivated by the victim�s sexual orientation. And many others are motivated by the victim�s gender identity, gender or disability.�
�This is one of the most important pieces of federal legislation to help erase hate in our society today. I urge every American to contact your leaders, including the president, and encourage them to support this bill,� said Judy Shepard. �Whether it be for Matthew or for the thousands of other victims of hate crimes, I am personally asking for your help to ensure this important piece of legislation passes.�
The LLEHCPA adds sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to existing federal law conferring authority on the federal government to investigate and prosecute violent crimes. This authority already exists for crimes committed because of the victim�s race, color, religion or national origin and because the victim was attempting to exercise a federally protected right. The bill ensures a federal backstop to assist local law enforcement in those cases in which they request assistance or fail to adequately investigate or prosecute these serious crimes. The bill would also provide assistance to local law enforcement for investigating and prosecuting bias-motivated violent crimes.
The Human Rights Campaign worked closely with House and Senate legislators as the companion bills were drafted and introduced.
�According to the FBI, over 9,000 people a year, or 24 people every day are victimized by hate crimes. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that the number may be four times that many since so many hate crimes routinely go unreported,� Kennedy said. �These crimes are acts of domestic terrorism that have an impact far greater than on the individual victim. Hate crimes target whole communities. They�re crimes against the fundamental ideals on which America was founded. For far too long, law enforcement has been forced to investigate these crimes with one hand tied behind its back. That�s wrong and Congress must set it right.�
�A principal responsibility of government is to protect and defend its citizens and to come to the aid of the mistreated. As a nation founded on the ideals of tolerance and justice, we simply cannot accept violence that is motivated by bias and hate,� Smith said. �Current law is limited. Our proposal would change that, and change it permanently.�
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would strengthen the ability of law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute hate crimes by:
Protecting All Americans. Under the current federal law, enacted nearly 40 years ago, the government has the authority to help investigate and prosecute bias-motivated attacks based on race, color, national origin and religion and because the victim was attempting to exercise a federally protected right. For example, authorities became involved in aSalt Lake City case where James Herrick set fire to a Pakistani restaurant on Sept. 13, 2001. Herrick was sentenced to 51 months� incarceration on Jan. 7, 2002, after pleading guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 245.
However, under current law, the federal government is not able to help in cases where women, gay, transgender or disabled Americans are victims of bias-motivated crimes for who they are. For example, in Texas, in July 2005, four men brutally assaulted a gay man. While punching and kicking him, whipping him with a vacuum chord and assaulting him with daggers, the offenders told the victim that they attacked him because he was gay. Two of the men were sentenced to six years in prison under a plea bargain that dropped the charges that could have sent them to prison for life. Under this bill, federal authorities would have had the jurisdiction to prosecute the crime or could have provided local authorities resources that might have assisted them in pursuing a longer sentence.
Equipping Local Law Enforcement. The act would provide crucial federal resources to state and local agencies and equip local law enforcement officers with the tools they need to investigate and prosecute crimes. While most states recognize the problem of hate violence, and many have enacted laws to help combat this serious issue, federal government recognition of the problem is crucial to its solution. Too many local jurisdictions lack the full resources necessary to prosecute hate crimes. For example, when Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998, the investigation and prosecution of the case cost the community of 28,000 residents about $150,000, forcing the sheriff�s department to lay off five deputies in order to save money.
Ensuring Equal Application of the Law. The act would allow federal authorities to become involved if local authorities are unwilling or unable to act. In the hate crime on which the film Boys Don�t Cry was based, 21-year-old Brandon Teena was raped and later killed by two friends after they discovered he was biologically female. After the rape and assault, Teena reported the crime to the police, but Richardson County Sheriff Richard Laux, who referred to Teena as �it,� did not allow his deputies to arrest the two men responsible. Five days later, those two men shot and stabbed Teena to death in front of two witnesses, Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine, who were then also murdered. JoAnn Brandon, Teena�s mother, filed a civil suit against Laux, claiming that he was negligent in failing to arrest the men immediately after the rape. The court found that the county was at least partially responsible for Teena�s death and characterized Laux�s behavior as �extreme and outrageous.� Had this federal hate crime law been in effect, federal authorities could have investigated and prosecuted the offenders when the local authorities refused to do so.
Americans overwhelmingly support the expansion of the hate crimes law. According to a new poll conducted by Hart Research, large majorities of every major subgroup of the electorate � including such traditionally conservative groups as Republican men (56 percent) and evangelical Christians (63 percent) � express support for strengthening hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Support also crosses racial lines � with three in four whites (74 percent), African-Americans (74 percent) and Latino/as (72 percent) supporting the act.
More than 210 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations support the passage of this crucial piece of legislation, including:
President George H.W. Bush�s attorney general, Dick Thornburgh
National Sheriffs� Association
International Association of Chiefs of Police
National District Attorneys Association
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Council of La Raza
Parents Network on Disabilities
Human Rights Campaign
In addition, the bill is supported by 31 state attorneys general and the leading law enforcement organizations � because, despite progress toward equality in almost all segments of society, hate crimes continue to spread fear and violence among entire communities of Americans, and local law enforcement entities lack the tools and resources to prevent and prosecute these crimes.
Similar bills have passed both the House and Senate in recent years but have failed to be signed into law.
For additional information on hate crimes and the proposed legislation, visit the Human Rights Campaign website at www.hrc.org.
The Human Rights Campaign is America�s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation was founded by Dennis and Judy Shepard in memory of their 21-year-old son, Matthew, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998. Created to honor Matthew in a manner that was appropriate to his dreams, beliefs and aspirations, the Foundation seeks to �Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion & Acceptance� through its varied education, outreach and advocacy programs. For more information, please visitwww.MatthewShepard.org.
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