Monday, October 26, 2009

Love Trumps Hate...

On October 8, 2009, the House passed the first major piece of legislation to protect the rights of LGBT individuals in this country on a federal level. This was not an easy task for this legislation had failed to be passed on 13 other occasions in the past 12 years. However, the 14th try was a charm. The bill is headed to the desk of the President where it will be signed.

On November 13, 1997 105th Congress - The Hate Crimes Prevention Act was introduced in the House and the Senate. The bill would extend the protection of the current federal hate crimes law to include those who are victimized because of their sexual orientation, gender or disability. It would also strengthen current law regarding hate crimes based on race, religion and national origin.

On June 7, 1998, James Byrd Jr., 49, of Jasper, TX, was brutually kiilled after accepting a ride from three white men (members of white supremacy group Aryan Pride). He was stripped naked, chained by his ankles and dragged behind a pickup truck. It was noted after the autopsy that James was alive during much of the dragging. He died after his arm and head were severed duriing the dragging.

October 6-7, 1998, Matthew Shepard, 21, of Laramie, Wyo., meets two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, at a bar, and they drive him to a remote area east of Laramie, where they tie him to a split-rail fence, beat him and leave him to die in the cold of the night. Almost 18 hours later, he is found by a cyclist, who initially mistakes him for a scarecrow.
The late Senator Kennedy introduced to the 110th Congress a bill to expand the U.S. federal hate-crime law in March/April 2007 to encompass bodily crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Through much political rangling, the bill died in committee and was later reintroduced as an admendment. However, this admendment was dropped due to opposition from antiwar Democrats, conservative groups and then President George W. Bush.

In April 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crime Prevention Act is introduced to the Senate. It adopted the definition of a hate crime set by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (i.e., a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim or, in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person). However, the Matthew Shepart and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crime Act Authorizes the Attorney General to:

(1) Provide state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies with technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or other assistance in the investigation or prosecution of violent crimes and hate crimes; and

(2) award grants to assist such agencies with the extraordinary expenses associated with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. Authorizes the Office of Justice Programs to award grants to state, local, or tribal programs designed to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles. Authorizes appropriations to the Department of Justice (DOJ), including the Community Relations Service, for FY2010-FY2012 to prevent and respond to hate crime acts. Amends the federal criminal code to prohibit willfully causing bodily injury to any person because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of such person. Amends the Hate Crimes Statistics Act to expand data collection and reporting requirements under such Act to include:

(1) crimes manifesting prejudice based on gender and gender identity; and

(2) hate crimes committed by and against juveniles. Declares that nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit the exercise of constitutionally protected free speech.

When Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998, the Laramie, Wyo., police department requested assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice. Because crimes motivated by anti-LGBT bias were not covered in federal law, the department could not assist, and the prosecution was so expensive that Laramie had to furlough law enforcement officers. The act ensures that local law enforcement will have the resources it needs to address hate crimes.

At the time of James Byrd, Jr's murder, there were no hate-crime laws in the state of Texas.

Forty-five (45) states have hate crimes statutes, and the bill would not change current practices where hate crimes are generally investigated and prosecuted by state and local officials. However, it does broaden the narrow range of actions - such as attending school or voting - that can trigger federal involvement and allows the federal government to step in if the Justice Department certifies that a state is unwilling or unable to follow through on an alleged hate crime.

It was interesting to read the comments from some in the LGBT community. One person noted in response to the passage that this will not do anything to stop people in the LGBT community from being targets of attack and we should use our second amendment right and become armed and ready. I have no idea where his anger is coming from but I was a little bothered by that since of desperation. To think that ANY law passed will automatically stop people from committing the crime is short sighted at best. If that was the case, we could end crime simply by passing laws and the felons would stop in their tracks for fear of being charged and convicted. Laws are not a deterent in most cases, however, it is allows for resiprocity.