Hate Crime Legislative Update

Jan 11, 2008

The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (S.1105/H.R.1585), introduced by Senator Kennedy (D-MA) in the Senate and Representative Conyers (D-MI) in the House of Representatives, would strengthen existing federal hate crime laws in multiple ways.

Foremost, the measure would eliminate a serious limitation on federal involvement under the existing 1968 law-the requirement that a victim of a bias-motivated crime was attacked because he/she was engaged in a specified federally-protected activity, such as serving on a jury or attending public school.

Secondly, current law, (18 U.S.C. Sec. 245), authorizes federal involvement only in those cases which the victim was targeted because of race, color, religion, or national origin.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 would also authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes predicated on the victim’€™s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Current federal law does not provide sufficient authority for involvement in these cases.

Pending Hate Crimes legislation is designed to eliminate gaps in federal authority to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes.

The bill would provide an essential backdrop to state as well as local law enforcement by permitting federal authorities to provide assistance in these investigations-and by allowing federal prosecutions when necessary to achieve a fair and impartial result.

In those states without hate crime statutes, and in others with limited coverage, local prosecutors are not able to pursue bias crime convictions.

Presently, only thirty-one states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation-based crimes in their Hate Crime statutes; only twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia include coverage of gender-based crimes; only ten states include coverage of gender-identity based crimes, in addition, only thirty-one states and the District of Columbia include coverage for disability-based crimes.

The data extrapolated from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) manifests that there is strong majority support for the expansion of Hate Crime legislation to include sexual orientation, gender, and gender-identity among the general American population.

On December 6, 2007, the provisions of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act were removed from the Department of Defense Authorization conference report.

There were not enough votes to assure passage on the House floor due to a confluence of staunch opposition from the Republicans to the Hate Crimes provision, opposition from progressive Members to the Iraq War language contained in the conference report, in addition to a reluctance of moderate Democrats to risk a veto that would delay the military pay raise.

NASW believes that violence directed against individuals on the basis of their race, religion, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation is exceedingly prevalent-and poses significant and unwarranted threats to the comprehensive participation of all Americans in a democratic society.  Bias-motivated crimes are designed to intimidate the victim and members of the victim’€™s community, leaving them feeling alienated, vulnerable, and bereft of statutory protection.

Incidents of this magnitude impair the essence of our society and destabilize communities. NASW recognizes that bigotry is intolerable and cannot be legislated out of existence; therefore, a compelling and moral response to prejudicial violence is required of us all.

As social workers, we earnestly contend that Congress must do everything possible to empower the federal government to assist in local hate crime prosecutions and, where imperative, extend existing federal authority to permit a wider range of investigations and prosecutions.

NASW asserts that the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a constructive and equitable response to a problem that continues to plague America. For this reason, social workers are profoundly committed to advocating for a humane society that will resolve to fight injustice against all people.

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