[EDITOR'S NOTE] The following is a guest post by Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. HRC has been working for years on the federal hate crimes bill. Mr. Solmonese asked for the chance to respond to Congressmen Donnelly and Ellsworth's blog posts about their recent votes against the legislation.
Thanks for the opportunity to post on Bilerico.com today. The Human Rights Campaign values the work you do in Indiana and the help you provide us on national issues affecting the GLBT community.
Today, I want to talk about hate crimes. On Thursday, May 3rd, for the first time in history, the United States House of Representatives passed a free standing civil right bill protecting gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender Americans when they passed the Hate Crimes bill.
It was a remarkable day. I was in the Capitol with Judy Shepard. She spoke to the Democratic caucus meeting before the vote. As only Judy Shepard can do, she moved people. Through her courage and her pain, she literally moved members of Congress to do the right thing.
I know a couple of members of your state's congressional delegation explained on this blog why they voted against the Hate Crimes bill last week. We've heard many arguments against the legislation. At HRC, we have a simple reason for supporting that legislation -- because, despite progress toward equality in almost all segments of our society - hate crimes continue to spread fear and violence among entire communities of Americans. That's one reason why expanded federal hate crimes legislation has been supported by 31 states Attorneys General and the leading law enforcement organizations.
Hate crimes do happen in America all too frequently. In 2003, the FBI announced that there were more than 9,000 reported hate violence victims in the United States. That's almost 25 victims a day, or approximately one hate crime every hour. Although one in six hate crimes are motivated by the victim's sexual orientation, federal hate crimes laws do not include protections for these citizens. The current hate crimes law, which our opponents seem to deny exists, covers religion, national origin, color and race. And while the FBI does not specifically collect data on hate crimes based on gender identity, we know that all too often the transgender community is affected by some of the most horrific hate violence.
One argument against a federal hate crimes bill is that it's better to leave the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes in the hands of the states. Even after a federal hate crimes law is passed, the vast majority of these crimes will still continue to be addressed at the state level. However, the ability for the federal government to get involved in investigating and prosecuting hate violence is crucial to solving the problem. The truth is that many local jurisdictions that initiate investigations of hate violence may quickly find themselves overwhelmed with the costs of investigating and prosecuting these crimes. For example, when Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, WY, in 1998, the investigation and prosecution of the case cost the community of 28,000 residents about $150,000, forcing the sheriff's department to layoff five deputies in order to save money. That's why Dave O'Malley, a former lieutenant with the Laramie Police Department, joined Judy Shepard on the morning of the vote to lobby members of Congress. He knows first-hand why a federal law is needed.
Hate crimes are destructive and divisive. A random act of violence resulting in injury or even death is a tragic event that devastates the lives of the victim and their family. But the intentional selection and beating or murder of an individual because of who they are sends a powerful threat to an entire community and even the nation.
The same hateful violence that claimed the lives of Matthew Shepard, Michael Sandy, Ryan Keith Skipper and countless other victims across our nation is a blight on our nation. We need a federal hate crimes law. We need to pass this legislation in the Senate -- and you can help.
Please call Senators Lugar and Bayh and urge them to vote for the Matthew Shepard Act. And while you're at it, please call Congressmen Donnelly and Ellsworth to express your disappointment in their votes against the hate crimes bill that will send a powerful message that bias-motivated violence has no place in America.
Human Rights Campaign President