Standing Up Against Hate Crimes
Hate crimes terrorize entire communities. When Matthew Shepard died in 1998, thousands of gay men and lesbians across the country were reminded that their sexuality made them vulnerable to horrific violence.
Criminal offenses against people of color, gays, lesbians, people with disabilities, and other minority groups often target individuals, but they create insecurity and anxiety in local communities and vulnerable groups nationwide. That’s why state and local policies for combating hate crimes are not enough. Local governments nationwide need the federal government’s help to ensure the safety of their vulnerable communities.
Bipartisan legislation introduced last month by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the House and today in the Senate by Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) would begin to do just this. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act seeks to extend federal authority and jurisdiction to allow the FBI and Department of Justice to work with state and local officials to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. In cases where local officials are unwilling or unable to address these crimes, the legislation would allow the federal government to directly intervene.
Congress passed hate crime legislation in 1968 that allows the federal government to prosecute crimes when they are motivated by bias against people of a particular race, color, religion, or national origin. But that law restricts federal involvement to cases where the victim was participating in a “federally-protected activity” like serving on a jury, attending public school, or voting.
Meanwhile, hate crimes continue to occur every year. The special attention that these crimes require can stretch local law enforcement officials beyond their capacity. For example, the costly investigation of Shepard’s murder in
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that there were almost 1,500 victims of violence just based on sexual orientation in 2003 alone. Over 10,000 hate crimes based on the victim’s sexual orientation are estimated to have occurred since 1998 and many more go unreported.
Gays and lesbians are increasingly in the public spotlight due to the marriage equality debate, and the number of hate crimes against them has spiked in some parts of the country. Individuals with non-traditional gender identities also continue to be targets of brutal violence nationwide. Yet federal prosecutors do not have legal authority to intervene in cases of violence based on bias toward transgender individuals at all, and law does not require the FBI to even collect statistics on such cases.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would take a needed step to protect transgender Americans by allowing the FBI to gather statistics about the number of crimes motivated by bias against an individual’s gender identity and also to investigate and prosecute these crimes.
To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:
Print: Liz Bartolomeo (poverty, health care)
202.481.8151 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or email@example.com
Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education)
202.478.6331 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Print: Tanya Arditi (immigration, Progress 2050, race issues, demographics, criminal justice, Legal Progress)
202.741.6258 or email@example.com
Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, TalkPoverty.org, faith)
202.478.5328 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Print: Benton Strong (Center for American Progress Action Fund)
202.481.8142 or email@example.com
Spanish-language and ethnic media: Jennifer Molina
202.796.9706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or email@example.com
Radio: Sally Tucker
202.481.8103 or firstname.lastname@example.org