Thursday, May 03, 2007

Talking PointsFor- hate crimes bill, H.R. 1592

Attacking Hate
Since 1991, more than 100,000 hate crime offenses have been reported to the FBI. In 2005 alone, there were at least 1,017 crimes based on sexual orientation, yet under the current law, "the federal government is not able to help in cases where women, gay, transgender or disabled Americans are victims of bias-motivated crimes for who they are." Today, the House is voting on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA), a bipartisan bill that would enable federal officials to work with state and local officials to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. Far right-wing groups are aggressively opposing this legislation, spreading baseless myths and shrill rhetoric. The last time the House passed this legislation in Sept. 2005, 223 lawmakers supported it, including 30 Republicans. Tell Congress to support LLEHCPA again today here.

MYTH #1 -- HATE CRIMES PROTECTION IS UNNECESSARY: "There are no crimes covered by the hate crimes bill, H.R. 1592, which are not already prosecutable under existing laws," wrote the Family Research Council (FRC) in its May 1 newsletter. Former chief counsel to President Nixon, Chuck Colson, argues, "Some say we need this law to prevent attacks on homosexuals. But we already have laws against assaults on people and property." Despite the right wing's rhetoric, LLEHCPA would give the federal government much-needed new authority to assist states in going after hate crimes in all categories. Under the current federal hate crime law enacted in 1969, the federal government has the authority to investigate and prosecute "attacks based on race, color, national origin and religion and because the victim was attempting to exercise a federally protected right." LLEHCPA would give the federal government the ability to help where women, gay, transgender or disabled Americans are also the victims of bias-motivated crimes. A 2006 Harris Interactive poll found that "64 percent of gays and lesbians are concerned about being the victim of a bias-motivated crime." While the FRC and Colson are right that physical attacks can already be prosecuted, hate crimes are especially pernicious. Eighty-five percent of law enforcement officials believe "bias motivated violence to be more serious than similar crimes not motivated by bias." 

MYTH #2 -- LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS DO NOT NEED MORE RESOURCES TO COMBAT HATE: Earlier in the week, the National Review published an editorial arguing, "[T]here is no evidence that local law enforcement has a special need for federal resources to help it combat hate crimes." But as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) notes, "Too many local jurisdictions lack the full resources necessary to prosecute hate crimes. For example, when Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., 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 lay off five deputies in order to save money." The new legislation would allow federal officials to get involved where local law enforcement is unwilling or unable to do so. It would also make grants available to train local law officers to go after hate crimes and help combat violent crimes committed by juveniles. It is endorsed by 31 state attorneys general and leading law enforcement agencies, including the National Sheriffs' Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Additionally, hate crimes continue to be a persistent problem. As HRC president Joe Solmonese notes, "Approximately 25 hate crimes are reported each day in our country. And more simply go unreported. One in six of these crimes is motivated by the victims sexual orientation." According to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups -- such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis -- have increased 40 percent since 2000.

MYTH #3 -- BILL WOULD CRIMINALIZE FREE SPEECH: "There's a vote coming up on some insidious legislation in the United States Congress that could silence and punish Christians for their moral beliefs," said Focus on the Family founder James Dobson on his Tuesday broadcast. "That means that as a Christian -- if you read the Bible a certain way with regard to morality -- you may be guilty of committing a 'thought crime.'" The Concerned Women for America put out a statement claiming that this legislation is meant to "grant official government recognition to both homosexual and cross-dressing behaviors, and to silence opposition to those behaviors." Colson wrote that "pastors who preach sermons giving the biblical view of homosexuality could be prosecuted." None of these statements are true. LLEHCPA goes after criminal action, like physical assaults, not name-calling or verbal abuse. The bill clearly states that "evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense."

MYTH #4 -- BILL IS OPPOSED BY ALL RELIGIOUS GROUPS: Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, recently said, "Liberal and homosexual extremists want to silence people of faith whose religious beliefs condemn homosexual behavior. This bill effectively adds a footnoted exception to the First Amendment of the Constitution -- 'none of these protections apply to Christians or other people of faith.'" But the bill before the House today ensures that all Americans are protected against hate crimes. Sheldon and other members of the radical right are in the minority. "According to a new poll conducted by Hart Research, large majorities of every major subgroup of the electorate -- including such traditionally conservative groups as Republican men (56 percent) and evangelical Christians (63 percent) -- express support for strengthening hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity." In mid-April, more than "230 religious leaders representing congregations from every state in the union gathered on Capitol Hill to talk with lawmakers" about hate violence. Additionally, more than 210 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations -- including the Presbyterian Church, Parents Network on Disabilities, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- support the passage of LLEHCPA.


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