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Archive for the ‘Hate Crimes’ Category

Rachel Maddow interviewed Judy Shepard – mother of slain Matthew Shepard – last night in response to the outrageous comments by Rep. Virginia Foxx (F-NC) calling Matt’s death “a hoax,” contrived to pass hate crimes legislation (which passed the House of Representatives by an excess of 75 votes).



I encourage my readers
to contact Rep. Foxx’s office and let her know what you think about her stateement — and her “semantic” clarification.

It’s impossible to get through to Foxx’s office by phone, but I was able to fax to her DC office yesterday (twice). Foxx’s DC Office fax is: 202-225-2995.

Let her know what you think about her comments; I did!

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action-alert1We just got the news: the U.S. House has passed the fully inclusive Matthew Shepard Act.

This was not an easy victory. But we WON in the House – thanks in part to the tireless, fearless Judy Shepard, who joined Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign in critical last-minute meetings on Capitol Hill today.

It happened! Now the battle moves to the Senate.

We need every Senator to know we want quick action on the inclusive hate crimes bill. You’ve emailed, you’ve called, you’ve donated – and I thank you deeply – but I hope you understand that this fight is far from over.

President Obama has pledged to sign the bill, but to get it to his desk we’ll need to pass it through the Senate first. And with the lies from right-wing groups ALREADY intensifying – one group went so far as to say the bill makes “pedophiles a protected class” and is “pro-child molester” – it’s not going to be easy.

For more information of what happened today, and what you can do to assure passage in the Senate, click here!

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mattcollageToday, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Senate version of hate crimes legislation now being considered by the House. Kennedy stated that this legislation is “long overdue” and added “hate crimes are especially poisonous.”

President Obama issued a statement in support of the bill yesterday.

“This week, the House of Representatives is expected to consider H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. I urge members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance – legislation that will enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association. I also urge the Senate to work with my Administration to finalize this bill and to take swift action,”

But there are the naysayers – from members of Congress (unremarkable from the republican party) to Cable TV pundits — who are gunning against passage.

During a House Judiciary meeting, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) asked why prostitutes weren’t included in the bill, stating that people who hate prostitutes as a class sometimes murder them for this reason. “Should there be an amendment to this to say that prostitutes are a protected class?” she said. “Why is it worse to go after someone who’s gay than going after someone who’s a prostitute?”

So why bother with hate crimes legislations, particular for LGBT folks? As some have asked, aren’t all crimes based on hate? The question deserves a response.

These are my thoughts. What makes a “hate crime” particularly egregious is that it targets an individual – solely because she or he is a member of a group that has been historically victimized and vilified by the larger majority society. Further, the characteristics that define an individual’s membership within this minority group are independent of choice. We know that gay and lesbian people don’t choose to be homosexual; it is both fixed and immutable.

Because GLBT folks have been and continue to be hated simply because of who they are, it is the responsibility of government to both provide protections and to let the wider community know that crimes against the group are a heightened offense.

Rep. Foxx’s comparison of GLBT folks to prostitutes, of course, is ridiculous and offensive (why it is so common for republicans to make such dumb-ass statements?). I didn’t choose to be gay. The choice that I made and continue to make is to life my life with some honesty and integrity – a decision that every LGBT person faces. And because I make this choice shouldn’t bring the added danger of becoming a crime victim – simply because I am a gay man.

The Washington Blade states that:

“The passage of hate crimes legislation would allow the U.S. Justice Department to assist in the prosecution of hate crimes committed against LGBT people that result in death or serious injury. The federal government could lend its assistance to local authorities or take the lead if local officials are unwilling or unable to prosecute cases. Further, the legislation would make grants available to state and local communities to train law enforcement officials, combat hate crimes committed by juveniles and investigate bias-motivated violence.”

The passage of inclusive Federal Hate Crimes Legislation won’t bring Matthew Shepard back to us, but maybe – just maybe – another young gay teen won’t have to pay with his life just for being who he is.

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action-alertAction Alert:

The U.S. House votes tomorrow on the Matthew Shepard Act – the federal hate crimes bill. Judy Shepard and millions of others have been waiting for ten years for fully inclusive hate crimes legislation.
Text, CALL, or dial 202-684-2471 and urge your representative to vote YES.

It just takes a minute – do it now!

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stop-hate-crimeThe Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is slowing working its way through Congress. It’s been ten years since hate crimes legislation was first introduced; it’s been a slow, painful process even suffering a veteo at the hand of Bush (the lesser). This year with a majority in Congress and a supportive President, we have a real chance of passing a fully-inclusive hate crimes bill.

If you haven’t contacted your members of Congress asking them to support the bill, please do so. The Human Rights Campaign has put together a tool that makes it easy to send a message to lawmakers in support of the bill.

It’s rare that I republish material from other venues, particularly since I also did yesterday, but there is an excellent op-ed piece in the “On Faith” section of today’s Washington Post.

Hate Crimes are Message Crimes
By Steve Gutow, Michel Kinnamon and Sayyid M. Syeed

The American experience of a pluralistic democracy is unique in the human story and the source of our nation’s strength. The unprecedented freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy make the United States the world’s most dynamic and diverse society. Many of our family members came from disparate parts of the globe to make America their home. Many sought a life free from the shackles of oppression. Many fled intolerance. For too many however, the promise of America has been tarnished by hate and bias. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the case of hate crimes. These horrific and degrading acts are anathema to the principles on which our country was founded. Our national hate crimes laws should be improved so they can to more effectively deter hate crimes and protect vulnerable populations.

As people of faith and as Americans committed to social justice, we know that hate crimes are message crimes. They send the message not only to the victim, but to entire communities that they are neither welcome nor safe. This impact is felt beyond political lines and geographic boundaries.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a crucially important piece of legislation. This bill would expand the definition of hate crimes to include crimes targeted at people on the basis of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability – categories not covered under current law. It would also remove restrictive provisions that allow federal action only if the hate crime victim was engaged in a narrow range of federally protected acts.

Today, the Department of Justice is too often prevented from providing necessary assistance in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. If local authorities are unwilling or unable to provide an effective investigation or prosecute these alarming crimes, it is critical that the federal government be empowered to assist local jurisdictions and independently pursue justice.

In too many cases, victims of a felonious hate crime witness their attacker’s offense reduced to a minor misdemeanor charge, resulting in a mere slap on the wrist with no prison time. And far too often, local law enforcement officials lack the ability to prosecute hate crimes as hate crimes, even when the evidence overwhelmingly suggests the crime was motivated solely by bias against a group in which the victim is believed to belong. Violent hate crimes create fear among members of a particular group in our society, something that no American deserves.

Take, for instance, the murder of 18-year old Scotty Joe Weaver. In 2004, he was robbed, beaten, stabbed, strangled, partially decapitated, and set on fire in a manner described by the local prosecutor as being “suggestive of overkill, which is not something you see in a regular robbery and murder.” The Alabama District Attorney added that there was “no doubt in my mind” the murder was motivated by Weaver’s sexual orientation. However, because of the structure of Alabama’s law, this act could not be tried as hate crime. In 2003, Billy Ray Johnson, a mentally disabled man, was ridiculed, assaulted and left for dead on a desolate country road in Texas. Johnson’s assailants received only misdemeanor charges. In both cases, the federal government was prevented from investigating and prosecuting these horrific crimes. It’s no surprise that virtually every major law enforcement organization in the country and state attorneys general support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

A nation’s laws are a reflection of its social contract with all of its citizens. Effective enforcement of strong laws addressing crimes based on prejudice will send a powerful message. Hate-based violence is an anathema to the principles of freedom and equality, which form the cornerstone of our American democracy. Now we have a historic opportunity to make this legislation law. We need to build a society, government, and justice system that reflect our best values – freedom, pluralism, the rule of law, and justice.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Rev. Dr. Michel Kinnamon is the general secretary of the National Council of Churches; and Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed is the national director of the Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances for the Islamic Society of North America.

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no-hateToday, I came across a great post by Chris Sanders on the case for hate crimes legislation. Chris is a blogger for Grand Divisions, a blog produced by the Tennessee Equality Project, the state’s largest GLBT organization. Chris is also chair of the organization. I thank him for his brilliant exposé and allowing me to repost his important work.

There is a general consensus in the GLBT community that hate crimes laws should include sexual orientation and gender identity. That doesn’t mean everyone within the community agrees and it certainly doesn’t mean everyone else agrees.

Here are the opportunities before us. First, in Tennessee, HB 0335/SB 0253 was introduced in the General Assembly this year. It would add gender identity as a sentencing enhancement factor; sexual orientation is already covered under Tennessee law. There is no fiscal note on the bill, which gets rid of one opposing argument right off the bat. Second, we have hopes that the Matthew Shepard Act or the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act will be passed at the federal level later this year. The bill would…

  • remove the current prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity, like voting or going to school;
  • give federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue;
  • provide $10 million in funding for 2008 and 2009 to help State and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes;
  • require the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people (statistics for the other groups are already tracked)

So what are the objections?

First, some religious right groups have been spreading the myth/lie/falsehood/ruse that hate crimes laws regulate speech. It’s not true. Neither the state nor the federal bill deals with speech. You can still preach against the GLBTs from the pulpit if you choose. As Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) puts the matter eloquently:

Second, we often hear opponents, even within the GLBT community, argue that the hate part doesn’t make any difference. A murder is a murder, after all. Right? Not true. First, of all, many hate crimes don’t result in death. They can range from vandalism to assault to murder. The hate factor does matter because legal proceedings do consider motive and it is basic to criminal law to look at different categories of crime–viz., assault vs. aggravated assault. How many words do we have for a crime when someone is killed? Manslaughter, homicide, first-degree murder, etc. If there is a pattern of crimes that share a common motivation and target something specific about a group of victims, isn’t it in society’s interest to track them and treat them differently? Doesn’t that kind of focus help us solve and prevent those crimes more effectively? What you’re basically saying, if you oppose hate crimes legislation, is that you don’t give a damn if particular kinds of victims are protected and receive justice.

Third, there’s a new argument against hate crimes legislation that I’m starting to see coming from the left. Some are arguing (and get ready to cringe when you read the phrase) that hate crimes laws prop up the “prison industrial complex.” In other words, hate crimes laws would simply put more disadvantaged people in our mismanaged and oppressive prisons. These same critics would argue that hate crimes laws don’t work any way.

After getting past the eye-rolling about the phrase “prison industrial complex,” the response to this line of argument is clear. Society has the right and responsibility to protect itself from violent offenders. The fact that our prisons are mismanaged and oppressive is such a broad argument that it would seem to justify not putting anyone else in them. If someone is convicted of a dangerous crime, he or she needs to be locked up. The argument also ignores the fact that most of the victims themselves are from racial, ethnic, and religious minority communities. Even in the GLBT community, the victims are often African-American. Consider the two transgender women in Memphis who were murdered and the third who was shot in the face last year–all African-American. And according to the Department of Justice, many of these crimes are committed for the “thrill” of it. Class isn’t necessarily the dominant factor in sorting out the perpetrators. In fact, the average perpetrator of anti-gay violence can be your typical college student who may not be particularly disadvantaged at all, according to some studies. In this young adult age group, the motivations are described as self-defense against perceived sexual propositions, an anti-gay ideology, peer influence, and (in agreement with the Department of Justice) thrill seeking.

So are hate crimes laws effective? Standing alone, they will not prevent hate crimes. Education is necessary, too. If there are not aggressive prosecutions, then they won’t work. We have not had aggressive prosecutions in Tennessee with respect to anti-gay hate crimes. In fact, we have not had aggressive investigations of hate crimes in Tennessee. That’s precisely why the Matthew Shepard Act would make a difference. It would provide resources for investigating hate crimes and it would allow the federal government to step in if local authorities chose not to pursue acts of hate.

In rural Tennessee, it is often difficult for elected district attorneys and elected sheriffs to puruse a matter as a hate crime. That’s not to say they don’t do their jobs in taking on acts of vandalism, murder, etc. But it is up to the D.A. to go after the sentencing enhancement. It almost never happens. And there are no extra resources for county sheriffs and city police departments to conduct adequate investigations of the hate angle. So to argue that hate crimes laws don’t work is speculative at best since they really haven’t had a chance to be tested.

Based on other kinds of hate crimes, like cross burnings, that are less common today, I think we can make an educated guess that adding sexual orientation and gender identity to hate crimes, would have a positive effect. In other eras, the practice was fairly common. Twenty occurred between October 2005 and April 2007, according to the FBI. Because race is covered by federal hate crimes laws, here’s what the FBI says it can offer in invesigating these acts of hate:

What do we bring to the table? Two things primarily.

First, our full suite of investigative and intelligence capabilities. For example:

  • We can use our intelligence to provide a broader understanding of any involved organized hate groups; we may also have or be able to develop informants or other sources of information in these groups or in the area.
  • We can run undercover or surveillance operations and send in our evidence response teams to help secure and map crime scenes.
  • Where needed, we can lend our laboratory and computer forensic expertise.
  • Using our network of national and even international offices, we can help run down leads that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
  • We can send in teams of specialists to help victims of the crimes.
  • We can issue wanted flyers for suspects on the lam.

Second, the full force of federal civil rights statutes when warranted. In some cases, for example, states may not even have hate crime laws on the books.

If the GLBT community is the target of hate violence, doesn’t it seem reasonable to extend these resources to our community as well?

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shepardWhen he was discovered tied to a picket fence, he looked like a scarecrow. His face was completely red, except for two vertical lines streaming from his eyes. The lines had been where tears washed away blood from his young face. He remained in a coma and never regained consciousness, and passed away five days later from severe head trauma. His name was Mathew Shepard.

Matt was a 21 year-old University of Wyoming student. He was attacked – really tortured – over the night of October 6-7, 1998 by Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. During the trial, witnesses stated that Shepard was targeted solely because he was gay. Henderson pleaded guilty to felony murder and kidnapping, a plea that spared him the death penalty. McKinney was also convicted of felony murder and kidnapping. Yet, he was spared the death penalty at the request of Matt’s parents.

hendersenWhile in jail during his trail, Henderson bragged to his cellmates that he “killed a fag,” a point that wasn’t lost on Judge Barton Voigt during sentencing. Henderson’s attorney tried – quite unsuccessfully – to argue “gay panic.” This is a not-uncommon defense used by perpetrators of violence against gays, lesbians, or transgender people. The argument goes that the victim made a sexual pass and the perpetrator was so overwhelmed by revulsion and disgust that they were driven to temporary insanity and had to strike out – thus, the “panic” defense. In Henderson’s trial the judge wouldn’t allow his attorney to use this lame excuse. It’s also worth noting that Matthew stood five foot, two inches and weighed 105 pounds. Not exactly a hulk against the likes of McKinney and Henderson.

During the investigation and trial it was discovered that around midnight on Oct. 7, Shepard met McKinney and Henderson in a bar. McKinney and Henderson offered Shepard a ride home. Subsequently, Shepard was robbed, pistol-whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area and left for dead because he was gay.

god-hates-fagsSome events are just bigger than themselves, and so it is with the Shepard murder. A floodlight has been brought to the prevalence of crimes against gay and lesbian people – crimes solely motivated by hatred of gay people as members of the group. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, including pre-school children, picketed Matt’s funeral with their signs, “God Hates Fags, and “Matt’s Burning in Hell.” For the first time, the U.S. began a long journey in understanding the importance of including sexual orientation – and later – gender identify in federal protection.

There’s nothing like the love of a mother. Matt’s mother quickly became an activist pushing for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal hate crimes legislation. Our hats go off to Judy Shepard. She has taken her pain and launched the Mathew Shepard Foundation which supports diversity and tolerance in youth organizations.

Listen to her message regarding pending federal legislation.



As Matt’s mother so eloquently states, after ten years we need to update our federal hate crimes legislation to include crimes committed against gay, lesbian, and transgender folks.

Federal hate crimes legislation, renamed the Matthew Shepard Act finally passed both houses of Congress in 2007. Unfortunately – yet predictably – President George W. Bush vetoed the legislation the same year. Then again, this is the very president who twice vetoed SCHIP, the federal legislation that would have expanded healthcare for about 4 million poor kids.

President Obama signed SCHIP into law on Feb. 4, 2009, just 15 days into his new administration. He has indicated that he is committed to the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act.

Contact your members of Congress

On April 22, 2009, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin consideration of federal hate crimes legislation. The bill, H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, would give federal officials authority to prosecute hate crimes targeting people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, among other categories. This is the beginning of a long process. To win passage, your support is crucial.

The Religious Right is adamant in their opposition to this legislation. They argue that the legislation is about “special rights.” Judy Shepard knows better, and so do all people of goodwill.

Let your federal legislators know that ten years is more than enough time to wait to do the right thing. Let them know that over the past ten years, tens of thousands more individuals have been victims of hate crimes. The Human Rights Campaign has put together a tool that makes it easy to send a message to lawmakers in support of the bill’s passage.

Let them know that love conquers hate.

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