Search Form
Now choose a category »

Public Statements

At The Request of Mr. Reid, the Following Statement Was Ordered to be Printed in the Record

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


(At the request of Mr. REID, the following statement was ordered to be printed in the RECORD.) -- (Senate - July 13, 2009)

(At the request of Mr. REID, the following statement was ordered to be printed in the RECORD.)

MATTHEW SHEPARD HATE CRIMES PREVENTION ACT

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join in supporting the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

We need to pass this bill without further delay. The House passed a hate crimes bill with a vote of 249 to 175 in April. President Obama has repeatedly stated that he supports swift enactment of hate crimes legislation. The Department of Justice has expressed a need to strengthen our Federal hate crimes law. And, over 300 law enforcement, religious, civil rights, and community organizations have stated their support for this act. We need to make certain that every American is protected from hate crimes. No one should be a victim of violence because of who they are.

In fact, hate crimes are domestic terrorism. Like all terrorist acts, they seek to bring fear to whole communities through violence on a few. We have committed ourselves to protecting our country from terrorists that strike from abroad, so we must make the same commitment to protecting Americans from homegrown terrorism.

Only weeks ago, a small distance from this Capitol, James von Brunn, a formerly convicted criminal and a known anti-Semite, entered the DC Holocaust Memorial Museum and began firing a rifle. During the attack, von Brunn shot and killed security guard Stephen Johns. As tragic as this incident was, the heroism of Stephen Johns, and the heroism of other members of the museum's security team, prevented von Brunn from conducting a violent massacre of innocent men, women, and children. Von Brunn planned a hate crime, an act of domestic terrorism. Our society recognizes that such a crime cannot be tolerated. Attacks like these send shockwaves through American communities and must be prosecuted as terrorizing crimes.

The original hate crime statute, enacted in 1968, criminalized violent acts based on a victim's race, color, religion, or national origin. Over the past 40 years, we have learned from experience that hate crime perpetrators often target communities unprotected by the original statute. This amendment strengthens that statute to protect victims targeted with violence because of their gender, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, or their disability.

In Boston on August 24, 2008, Jonathan Howard and three friends were viciously attacked by four men while walking home from a Boston nightclub. The assault began when a Honda pulled up beside the victims. The four men in the vehicle began yelling obscenities and homophobic slurs at the group. The perpetrators told Howard to die and repeatedly kicked his head into the pavement. After the event, Howard stated that ``the type of assault that we encountered was completely random, unprovoked, and unforgivable.'' This type of attack was just as much a hate crime as the attack by James von Brunn, and it needs to be recognized as a Federal hate crime.

The victims did nothing to provoke their attack. They did not deserve to be the subjects of violence. No member of the LGBT community should be terrified to walk down the street for fear of hateful violence. Hate crimes perpetrators must not be allowed to place our communities in fear.

On May 11, the Boston Globe reported that the historic election of President Barack Obama spurred a wave of hate crime violence. The article cites a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center that shows the number of White extremist groups in the United States has increased by nearly 50 percent since 2000, and that White extremist activity has sharply increased over the past several months.

Last November 5, following the election of President Barack Obama, four men rampaged across Staten Island, assaulting African Americans in response to President Obama's victory. The attackers beat a 17-year-old boy with a pipe. They physically assaulted another man to the ground, verbally harassed individuals suspected of voting for President Obama, and slammed into a man with a car because they mistakenly believed he was African American. None of these victims were known to their attackers. None of these victims could have prevented the attacks. The victims were terrorized because their attackers wanted to send a violent message of hate to the African American community.

Last July 12, in Shenandoah, PA, Luis Ramirez, a 25-year-old Mexican and father of two, was beaten by several drunken students from the local high school. Authorities said the teenagers yelled ethnic slurs as they punched and kicked Mr. Ramirez, causing him to lose consciousness and begin to foam at the mouth. As a result of the attack, Mr. Ramirez died 2 days later. During the attack, one of the assailants reportedly yelled, ``tell your . . . Mexican friends to get . . . out of Shenandoah . . . .'' According to Pennsylvania Governor Rendell, ``Luis Ramirez was targeted, beaten, and killed because he was Mexican.'' Yet after a jury trial in State court, the killers were acquitted of the most serious charges and convicted of simple assault--yes, simple assault.

As the result of this case, the Justice Department is currently investigating civil rights violations with one hand tied behind their back. Because the incident occurred while the victim was walking by a park, and because walking by a park may not be considered a ``federally protected activity,'' the Justice Department is not able to fully investigate and prosecute this crime. This legislation closes the flagrant loophole that prevents prosecution of a hate crime when a victim is not engaged in a federally protected activity. It provides that hate crime perpetrators may be prosecuted, regardless of where their victim was or what they were doing when he or she was attacked.

In addition, this bill authorizes the Justice Department to make grants to State, local, and tribal authorities to combat, investigate, and prosecute hate crimes more effectively. During these times of economic crisis, State and local authorities are cash-strapped to deal with costly hate crime incidents. Investigations tend to be expensive. They require considerable law enforcement effort and extensive use of grand juries. To ease the extraordinary costs and complexity of such cases, the bill authorizes $5 million in Justice Department grants to State, local, and tribal law enforcement officials who have incurred extraordinary expenses associated with investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.

The legislation also authorizes the Justice Department to make grants for State, local, and tribal programs that combat hate crimes committed by juveniles, including programs to train local law enforcement officers in identifying, investigating, prosecuting, and preventing hate crimes. With hate crimes against Latinos on the rise, and hate crimes against LGBT individuals on the rise, and hate group activity on the rise, we must ensure that our State and local law enforcement authorities have all the tools and resources they need to combat, investigate, and prosecute hate crimes.

I am proud to take this opportunity to recognize the work of the Boston Police Department as the only major police department to incorporate hate crimes training into its mandatory training program. Unfortunately, many police departments around the country do not have the resources necessary to provide such training. This bill specifically authorizes the Justice Department to allocate funds for training so that other police departments may follow the example set by the Boston PD.

Violent attacks based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability deserve to be criminalized by Federal law. Our Nation must show that it will not permit these communities to be terrorized--one victim at a time.

For the past 10 years, the Senate and the House of Representatives have each passed this legislation on multiple occasions--only to face political setbacks that have prevented the measure from being enacted. Now, we must finish the job and send this legislation to the President for his signature. By doing so, Congress will be reflecting the will of the American people. We will be sending a strong message that hate crime violence will not be tolerated--and that every citizen deserves Federal protection against such crimes.

Religious leaders across the country support the amendment. As my colleagues know, the Golden Rule is recognized as one of the deepest principles in virtually every religious tradition. It is the simple principle that we ought to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated. In the book of Matthew, chapter 7, Jesus says, ``So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.'' This amendment embodies the Golden Rule by extending protection to individuals in communities that are vulnerable to violence fueled by hatred.

Religious leader, Pastor Joel C. Hunter, has said, "I would think that
the followers of Jesus would be first in line to protect any group from hate crimes ..... This bill protects both the rights of conservative religious people to voice passionately their interpretations of their scriptures and protects their fellow citizens from physical attack.''

Many religious groups have expressed their support for the bill, including the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Interfaith Alliance, the Presbyterian Church, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the United Methodist Church, and the Congress of National Black Churches.

Over 10 years have passed since the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act was first introduced in the Senate. Over 10 years have passed since Matthew Shepard was robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die because he was gay. I commend Matthew's mother, Judy Shepard, for her years of inspiring advocacy that have brought us to this moment. Now is the time for the Senate to vote and show that we will not allow domestic terrorism to tear apart the fabric of our Nation and take the lives of innocent Americans. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to follow their hearts and minds and vote in favor of this legislation.


Source:
Skip to top
Back to top