Civil rights, law enforcement groups back legislation
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-MI, on Tuesday, March 20, introduced the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and more than 100 other members of Congress also backed the bill as it was introduced.
The measure would extend the federal definition of a hate crime to include violence based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also provide added resources to help local law enforcement agencies combat hate crimes.
The bill would give the Justice Department the power to investigate crimes in which the victim was targeted based on actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It also allows the Justice Department to assist state and local jurisdictions in investigating hate crimes resulting in death or serious bodily injury, either by lending assistance or by taking the lead in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes when state or local authorities are unwilling or unable to.
The bill would also make grants available to state and local communities to fight violent crimes committed by juveniles, to train law enforcement officers or to assist in local or state investigations and prosecutions of hate crimes.
A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate in April.
In the 109th Congress, the House of Representatives approved a similar hate crimes bill as an amendment to other legislation on a bipartisan 223-199 vote. But the measure was defeated in the Senate, where it had passed in a previous session by a vote of 65-33.
The Law Enforcement Enhancement bill is one of several LGBT-rights measures that advocates have said they hope to be passed in this session of Congress, since Democrats won control of the House and the Senate in the November elections. And news that the bill had been introduced this week was greeted with enthusiasm by gay rights advocates.
The measure has also drawn the support of several law enforcement organizations, including the National Sheriffs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 31 state attorneys general and the National District Attorneys Association.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, praised a provision of the measure that protects First Amendment rights by “seeking to punish acts of discrimination, not bigoted beliefs.”
“Too often we’ve seen hate crimes go unpunished due to inadequate resources or a bias against the victim,” Fredrickson said. “At the same time, we also believe that these prosecutions should be based on a defendant’s actions, not on his or her beliefs or organizational memberships, unless they are directly related to the crime.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said her organization “joins [more than] 210 civil rights, religious and civic organizations” in supporting the hate crimes legislation.
“Every day transgender people across our nation are threatened with violence and discrimination. Just walking down the street can require extraordinary courage in the face of intolerance and hostility. Far too often, harassment escalates into an attack … . Transgender people often live in fear of those who translate their personal prejudices into violence directed against us,” Keisling said.
Howard Dean, chair of the National Democratic Party, issued a statement in support of the measure, as did the Log Cabin Republicans, mirroring the bipartisan support the bill has received in Congress. Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force stressed the “symbolic importance” of the bill, while Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign noted that the bill specifically includes people who are targeted in hate crimes because of their religion.
But several conservative Christian organizations this week were working to mobilize their members in opposition to the hate crimes act.
“The bill is the first step toward silencing any opposition to the homosexual lifestyle,” warned an e-mail sent Tuesday by the American Family Association.
The e-mail included a link to a video on YouTube.com featuring the 2006 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade in Dallas. The e-mail notes that the video was “shot during an actual homosexual pride parade in Dallas,” and warns that the video’s contents are “highly offensive.”
The video focuses on clips of drag queens and shirtless men in tight shorts, jeans or Speedo-type bathing suits. A note from the man who posted the video explains that he is a straight man who was paid to film the event, and that he enjoyed the festive atmosphere of the parade.
Michael Marcavage, director of the evangelical Christian group Repent America, told World Net Daily, an online Christian news service, that the hate crimes act would “invert American justice, and instead of requiring evidence it would leave it to someone who claims to be offended to determine whether a “‘crime’ has been committed,” according to an article posted on WorldNetDaily.com on March 3.
“Truth is not allowed as evidence in hate crimes trials. A homosexual can claim emotional damage from hearing Scripture that describes his lifestyle as an abomination. He can press charges against the pastor or broadcaster who merely reads the Bible in public. The “‘hater’ can be fined thousands of dollars and even imprisoned!” Marcavage told World Net Daily.
The National Prayer Network and Focus on the Family are also opposing the legislation.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2007