Why we Need to support the Matthew Shephard Act

JL - posted on 06/29/2009 ( 12 moms have responded )

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I just listened to Obama''s speech to members of the LBGT concerning his support of the Matthew Shepard Act and the many issues concerning DADT. I was glad to once again here is unanimous support for the passage of a comprehensive hate crimes bill. But I am also reminded of the many arguements over why we do not need additional laws condoning hate crimes.



I read an article on CNN from Brian Levin and Jack McDevitt both are considered experts in the area of race relations and hate crimes and I thought that this article summoned up why we all need to support the passage of the Matthew Shephard Act and I wanted to share it.



SAN BERNARDINO, California (CNN) -- America needs a coordinated and multifaceted response to combat the continuing scourge of violent hate crime like the crime committed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on June 10.



The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, originally introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy a decade ago and nearly passed during the most recent legislative session, is expected to go before the Senate for a vote soon. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified on its behalf Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.



It is a crucial step in the nation's evolving response to hate crime. A hate crime occurs when an individual intentionally targets a victim or their property because of his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation.



While some have argued that these kind of laws criminalize free speech, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the 1993 case, Wisconsin v. Mitchell, that well-drafted hate crime laws are constitutional and do not punish speech. Rather they enhance the penalties only for acts that are already considered crimes.



The act is named for Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay college student who was kidnapped, robbed, tortured and left to die, tied to a fence in a remote area outside of Laramie, Wyoming in October 1998. His mother Judy has been a tireless advocate for hate crime laws and victims.



The Shepard Act remedies legal loopholes in federal and state criminal law that fail to protect against bias-motivated attacks based on such characteristics as sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability.



It also removes antiquated "Klan era" language that forces federal prosecutors to tie violent racial attacks to a small number of activities such as participating in a jury, voting or using hotels. As recent events have indicated, today's violent hate offenders, unlike their predecessors, will often swing into brutal action on their own initiative without waiting for a victim to exercise a specific activity covered by old 1960s laws.



However, much of the act's potency lies not in what it punishes, but rather in its recognition of the primary role local authorities now play in combating hate crime. Nearly all hate crime investigations and prosecutions in the United States are handled by state and local authorities, such as the Boston Police or Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police.



Gone are the days where masses of federal agents and soldiers had to swoop into states to protect new students and freedom riders from thugs in Klan-dominated municipalities. The act has a clear bias in favor of local prosecution and has restrictions that require federal prosecution only in limited cases where the leadership of the DJ approves.



However, reporting data indicates that some states apparently provide limited assistance to hate crime victims. These jurisdictions report either zero hate crimes or a handful of crime to the FBI, year after year, while neighboring states with similar demographics and crime profiles report far more.



A 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics victimization study found that only a small fraction of hate crimes nationally are actually reported. Thus, there appear to be various instances where federal help or prosecution are still necessary.



Today, in the midst of our economic downturn, federal authorities are needed much more to assist cash-strapped local departments, not as an unwelcome occupying force, but as a desperately needed partner to assist with forensics, technical assistance and investigations.



Even in police departments with model hate crime investigative units, such as the Boston Police Department's Community Disorders Unit, modern cases increasingly involve interstate travel or Internet hate networks, and require sophisticated ballistic and DNA testing or computer forensics.



These measures may be beyond the capacity of many local police agencies, particularly in difficult economic times. The act also provides greater access to local communities for federal training programs and mediation services that can prevent hate crimes before they boil over into violence.



Our research has established that hate crimes are a qualitatively unique category of offenses. Compared to non-bias motivated crimes these crimes are more likely to involve violence, injury, hospitalization, psychological trauma and a greater risk of retaliatory attacks, which can often spill across municipal borders. And while we cannot say whether hate crimes overall are actually increasing, there does appear to be an increase in the most violent hate crimes.



In 2007, hate-motivated homicides claimed nine lives, up from three in 2006, and the last year has seen a steady stream of violent plots and attacks against symbolic targets by hardened hate-mongers.



Since the beginning of the year we have seen many examples of extremist crimes. Here are a few:



Brockton, Massachusetts: January 21 -- White supremacist Keith Luke 22, allegedly kills two, rapes one, and shoots another while en route to a synagogue to kill Jews.



Miramar Beach, Florida: February 26 -- Dannie Baker, 60, a man known for anti-immigrant rantings, allegedly shoots 5, killing two Chilean immigrants.



Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: April 5 -- Neo-Nazi Richard Poplawski, 22, agitated over the belief that President Obama would ban guns, allegedly kills three police officers during a domestic violence call.



New York: May 20 -- Four Muslim converts are arrested on federal charges relating to a plot to bomb Jewish and military targets.



Pima County, Arizona: May 30 -- Leaders of the Minuteman American Defense group allegedly kill a 29-year-old Latino man and his nine-year-old daughter in an attempt to steal drugs and money to finance their civilian border patrol group.



Washington: June 10 -- Holocaust denier James von Brunn, 88, allegedly kills a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.



Two national research reports released last week document a disturbing level of supremacist activities and overall violence against a broad range of groups. Another report from the Southern Poverty Law Center counted a record number of 926 hate groups in the United States last year.



But there is something more to hate crime's harms that cannot be completely captured by statistics or criminological studies. As the Holocaust Museum attack demonstrates, hate crimes threaten pluralistic democracies in a way that other crimes do not.



Unlike many other crimes, they are at once discriminatory and terroristic. As law professor James Weinstein observed: "The effect of Kristallnacht on German Jews was greater than the sum of the damage to buildings and assaults on individual victims."



Violence and threats that destabilize the bonds between citizens and the democratic institutions that they share are worthy of additional punishment and federal assistance. Moreover, victims of hate-motivated violence are entitled to legal protection no matter where they reside. That is why over two-thirds of the American public favor hate crime laws, and why the Senate should heed their call to pass the Shepard Act.

MOST HELPFUL POSTS

Shelley - posted on 06/30/2009

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Amen! I just did my political science senior seminar project on rightwing extremists being a threat to US security. Have you looked at the Southern Poverty Law Center's website? Try http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelrepo... & http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelrepo... There are a lot of interesting articles there, as well as at the Anti-Defamation League's website. It's very scary. The goal of my presentation was to prove the DHS assessment and scare people. It was fun to research, but damn, there is so much hate out there. I really want to forget some of the stuff I saw. Freedom of Speech = Freedom to Hate. Our country is more accepting of extremists and hate speech than any other b/c of our views of free speech. When that speech hurts others, I think punishments for those crimes should carry more weight. O'Reilly's 29 Tiller the Baby Killer segments, for example. And some taken from SPLC, "The reality is that many of these same people (pundits, politicians, and others on the right who were outraged by the DHS assessment) have done their best to pour fuel on the flames of incipient antigovernment fury, feeding the same kind of white-hot popular anger that animated the militia movement of the 1990s, with all its violence." & "MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan recently said Obama would face a "bloodbath" if he legalized undocumented workers. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) fears Obama will set up "re-education camps for young people." U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) warns there are 17 "socialists" in the Congress. FOX News' Glenn Beck calls Obama a fascist, a Nazi and a Marxist, and even refloated militia-era conspiracy theories about secret concentration camps for patriots. People like Beck — who described himself as a mere "rodeo clown" when he was called out on such statements — may be craven opportunists pandering for ratings. It really doesn't matter. Their lunatic rants, planted in the rich soil of social discontent, make it that much harder for our country to advance toward a better future." --This is the opinion of someone who studies hate groups for a living, not mine. Then there's Jim David Adkisson, who killed 2 and injured 7 on a shooting rampage last summer inside a Knoxville church. Books written by Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly were found in his home, as well as a letter in his truck stating his disgust with liberals and gays. It only takes one crazy filled with the fiery rhetoric of hate and narrowly interpreted religion to create a disaster. Despite my research, I was not aware of this act and am appreciative for you bringing it to my attention.

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ME - posted on 07/16/2009

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Wow...that is a really good question. I would say that hate crimes can certainly be committed due to a persons gender, and very often rapists DO hate women simply because they are women. For example, a person who was physically abused by his mother, or who watched his father physically abuse his mother...someone who never learned to respect women as women...this type of person might be thought of as committing a hate crime when that crime was rape...I don't know that I've ever heard of a rape being prosecuted as a hate crime tho...very often in rape trials, it winds up being the victim that is on trial, not the rapist...anyone else...???

Shannon - posted on 07/16/2009

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Wow ladies! I'm just a regular old Psych major s.l.o.w.l.y working my way thru my bachelors - planning to speed it in when my son starts school!

Thank you for all the information on hate crimes. I've never quite understood the difference between a hate crime and a crime - is rape a hate crime?

ME - posted on 07/09/2009

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Thanks ladies...I will absolutely get in touch with my local office! I know I am lucky to have some free time...I am a Philosophy Instructor at a local college here, and have lots of free time in the summer...I don't know how long it will last tho...I have a 17 month old, and just found out that our second is on the way! I would love to show my children how important it is to become involved in politics in whatever way I can! I hope this will be the community of engaged, thoughtful Moms I've been looking for...anyone here from around the Chicago area?

Shelley - posted on 07/09/2009

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Yes, welcome Mary! Nice to have you. Your goals are noble, and I envy your ability to volunteer. I have 1 year old twins and am working on finishing my bachelors. Though I would have loved to volunteer for the campaign, it just wasn't doable. Maybe next time... I think Joy pretty much covered it. The emails from Obama et al include many possibilities to get involved at the local level.

JL - posted on 07/09/2009

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Welcome to OM Mary Elizabeth! As far as local volunteering goes... have you called the local Democrat office in your district and have you signed up at Obama's website so that you are the email list for volunteer work. They send quite a few emails asking for volunteers and will set you up with your local volunteer agencies so you can assist any way you can.

ME - posted on 07/09/2009

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So...this is where all of the intellectuals are hiding...I'm Mary...my double masters is in Philosophy and Counseling. I would like to start working for Obama on a local level (volunteer), spreading the truth about all of the amazing things he is accomplishing in his administration...The equal pay exec. order, the legislation on equal rights for civil unions (not far enough, but a good start), the work he just accomplished in Russia on decreasing nuclear arms (also not far enough...but you have to start somewhere). I would like to support his goals on health care reform, and in many other areas...does anyone have any suggestions?

JL - posted on 07/03/2009

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Shelley, Thanks...My major was in history and I have continued my education obtaining a Masters in American history and working on obtaining my PH.D. Haha, believe me I have not always done well with maintaining my cool. I have in some posts really lost it after reading some of the stuff that has been written in the political debating moms community by some of the conservative women. I don't pay as much attention to it over here because in this community I am interested in speaking with people with the same mindset when I want to hash it out with the otherside I try to take it over to the political debating moms. I am still considering the blog and think I will perhaps start it once school starts back so I will have one less child at home during the day allowing me a bit more time to focus on the undertaking. If and when I do I will definitely post an announcement on here. :)

Shelley - posted on 07/03/2009

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Joy, I am a political science major. I love it. You say it was your minor in undergrad. What was your major? Have you continued your education further?



I have read through some of the other conversations on here and see that you are thinking of starting a blog. Please let me know if you do. You are a great writer and obviously a very smart woman. You do much better keeping your cool than I can. I don't have the temperment to include myself in many of these convos. Traci drives me crazy.

JL - posted on 06/30/2009

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Thanks Shelly for the added information. I have also used the site before for research on a paper I wrote concerning the civil rights movement and the use of the legal system to attack racism. It is as you have attested full of a great deal of informative articles. I would love to read more about your project. Is polisci your major..it was my minor in undergrad. I posted something else in this community on the responsibilty of words that pertains to some of the things you have mentioned. You could probably add a great deal more information to that topic with your knowledge on the subject!

Sara - posted on 06/30/2009

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I hope you don't mind Shelley, I'm going to post this link at another group, I think it's great!

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