Preventing Hate Crimes

April 28, 2009

This past week, following a contentious committee debate, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913) was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee, setting up a floor vote in the House tomorrow. AAUW has been a longtime supporter of hate crimes prevention, with members taking action and vocalizing support over the 10 years that we have been working to see this monumental legislation pass. We have spoken out on the need to improve federal hate crimes laws and fill gaps to ensure that all victims are protected and to provide more resources for local law enforcement agencies to better handle these heinous crimes. You can learn even more about what the bill does by visiting www.unitedagainsthate.net.

AAUW’s 2007–09 Public Policy Program asserts that as a biennial action priority we will work to “guarantee equality, individual rights, and social justice for a diverse society. AAUW advocates … for freedom from violence and fear of violence in homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.” Communities with hate crimes present are not just communities with singular victims upon whom acts of violence are carried out, but rather they are communities where entire populations live in fear. Currently, federal law does not do enough, failing to protect many of the groups that are so often violated, contributing to the rising number of bias-motivated crimes occurring across this country every year.

Just last week we saw the case of a hate crime play out in the national media. Angie Zapata, a transgender teenager, was brutally murdered in Colorado in 2008. Her killer was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced under Colorado’s state hate crime law which, like the laws of 10 other states, covers transgender or gender identity bias-motivated crimes. The federal statute currently neglects victims like Zapata, because it fails to include gender identity bias in its protection. Furthermore, the federal statute is also out of line with the 28 states that cover gender and the 32 that cover sexual orientation. It’s well past time to fix that.

And so, I’ve turned to civil rights hero Judy Shepard, the mother of the now well-known victim of a sexual orientation-based hate crime, Matthew Shepard, to remind me exactly why we continue to push, year after year, to see this bill through and signed into law. She has been an outspoken advocate for the legislation, and just last week she recorded this poignant and touching video urging passage of the federal bill.

The stories of Matthew Shepard and Angie Zapata are reminders that sometimes, as pieces of legislation pass through the process, we lose sight of the faces of past victims who could have been better helped by such a step forward, or the faces of future Americans who can be born into a more just and hate-free world. I’d encourage you to take two seconds out of your day this week and join AAUW and our coalition partners in sending a message to your representative to support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. You can find out how he or she voted on the bill in the last Congress, when the threat of a presidential veto prevented it from becoming law.

Anne Hedgepeth By:   |   April 28, 2009

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