Last week the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed out of the Judiciary Committee.
The legislation now makes its way to the floor of the United States House of Representatives for consideration by the full chamber.
“Law enforcement is now one step closer to getting the extra tools they need to combat hate violence,” said Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign.
“Hate crimes continue to spread fear and violence among entire communities of Americans and currently, law enforcement can use these additional tools and resources to prevent and prosecute them.
“We look forward to the day when partisan politics are finally put aside and this bill passes through Congress and is sent to the President’s desk for signing into law.
“Although there were many attempts to derail this legislation today in committee, our allies in Congress stood strong and secured its passage.”
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would strengthen the ability of law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.
Under the current US federal law, enacted nearly 40 years ago, the government has the authority to help investigate and prosecute bias-motivated attacks based on race, colour, national origin and religion.
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.
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 US states recognise 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.
When Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, 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.
The act would also 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 characterised Laux’s behaviour 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%) and evangelical Christians (63%) – 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%), African-Americans (74%) and Latino/as (72%) supporting the act.
Similar bills have passed both the House and Senate in recent years but have failed to be signed into law.
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