A Message from Senator Carl Levin
Hate Crimes Bill
The brutal attack on University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in October of 1998 - beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die just because he was gay - shocked the conscience of our country.
Out of that tragedy grew a drive to enact stronger legislation to help combat hate crimes in our country. While no law can outlaw bigotry, involving federal law enforcement and imposing stricter penalties against those who commit hate crimes can help fight it.
Last month, the Senate agreed by 1 vote to an amendment - the Mathew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act - to provide additional federal protection against hate crimes as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. I have long been an original cosponsor of this legislation, and it was reintroduced this year in April. This legislation is now before a House-Senate Conference Committee.
We can't undo the violence of past hate crimes. But we can finally increase federal support to bring perpetrators of hate crimes to justice and to help deter these despicable crimes from happening at all.
Existing law narrowly defines hates crimes as offenses motivated by race, ethnic background, religion and national origin. This new legislation would, for the first time, expand the definition of a hate crime to include sexual orientation, gender and disability. It would also significantly expand the circumstances under which federal prosecutors can prosecute hate crimes.
In the coming weeks, the legislation will face serious opposition, including a threatened veto by President Bush. To succeed, we have to show our opponents a groundswell of public support.
The stakes are high. This legislation is an important step in making America a fully inclusive nation that does not tolerate acts of violence against individuals because of who they are. It's time to take action to punish those responsible.
These new protections against hate crimes are long, long overdue. They are supported by more than 175 civil rights and law enforcement organizations, as well as a broad range of state and local government associations and states attorneys general. I am hopeful that by working together, we can help make sure they finally become law.
I won't give up until that happens.