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Public Statements

The Matthew Shepard Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

THE MATTHEW SHEPARD ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - September 25, 2008)

Mr. SMITH. Mr. President, I wish to speak about the need for hate crimes legislation. Each Congress, Senator Kennedy and I introduce hate crimes legislation that would add new categories to current hate crimes law, sending a signal that violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society. Likewise, each Congress I have come to the floor on many occasions to highlight a separate violent, hate-motivated crime that has occurred in our country.

On the evening of August 9, 2008, 24-year-old Michael Roike was leaving the Playbill Cafe a Washington, DC, area bar with three of his friends when they noticed an SUV parked next door nearby. The SUV carried several men who reportedly spoke with Roike and his friends. The conversation allegedly began casually but escalated when the men from the SUV repeatedly used the word ``faggot.'' One of Roike's friends, Stevon-Christophe Burrell, 29, allegedly became upset and asked the men to leave them alone. In response, a male from the SUV reportedly approached Burrell aggressively. Roike said he stepped between them and tried to diffuse the situation, but Roike recounts that he suddenly felt pain in the left side of his head and hit the ground. Burrell was also struck before the attackers fled back to the vehicle and drove away. While no suspects have been apprehended, the Metropolitan Police Department report lists the attack as a ''simple assault,'' filing it as a hate crime based on sexual orientation.

I believe that the Government's first duty is to defend its citizens, to defend them against the harms that come out of hate. The Matthew Shepard Act is a symbol that can become substance. I believe that by passing this legislation and changing current law, we can change hearts and minds as well.

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