Late Breaking News
|Date: July 8, 1998 3:49 pm
Contact: Human Rights Campaign
|Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing On Hate Crimes Highlights Need To Pass Bill; Need for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation In Hate Crimes Law Is Clear|
|WASHINGTON - July 8 - A hearing today on a bill to allow federal
law enforcement authorities to investigate hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender
and disability is an important step toward ensuring that all Americans affected by
hate-motivated attacks have protection, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
"We hope today's hearing will lead to the extension of justice to those Americans who are held hostage to hate," said Winnie Stachelberg, HRC's political director. "Gay Americans are disproportionately victims of hate crimes and we would like to see this bill passed by the end of this congressional session. For many people, this hearing may be the beginning of renewed faith in the great ideals of American justice and personal liberty,"
Pat Cramer, who owns a gay bar in rural Boswell, Pa., spoke today at a news conference about how her patrons are frequent targets of hate-related incidents, including a shooting. On March 9, 1997, three customers were injured when gunshots were fired into the Casa Nova lounge. Patrons continue to be physically threatened and verbally abused, while local authorities refuse to get involved, she said.
"My husband and I live above the Casa Nova and every day, I fear for our lives. I hope we don't have to wait until a bombing or [another] shooting before they listen. I believe that this bill will allow federal law enforcement to become involved in cases like mine," said Cramer.
Hate crimes against gays, lesbians and bisexuals make up the third-highest category of hate crimes reported to the FBI -- 11.6 percent of all hate crimes reported in 1996, the latest year available. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, an umbrella organization for local groups that combat anti-gay violence, reported a 6 percent increase in reported anti-gay crimes for 1996, while violent crime continues to decrease nationally. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation-based crimes in their hate crimes statutes. While states continue to play the primary role in the prosecution of hate violence, the federal government must have jurisdiction to address those limited cases in which local authorities are either unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute, Stachelberg said.
Current law allows investigation and prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of race, religion, national origin and color. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would amend federal law to include sexual orientation, gender and disability and expand federal law enforcement jurisdiction.
"This bill needs to be passed because prosecutors are fighting these crimes with one arm tied behind their backs," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a lead sponsor.
"I don't see how any member of Congress, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, would not support this bill," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., another lead sponsor.
Other lead sponsors of the bill are Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla, and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act is also supported by the Clinton administration.
There are several federal hate crimes laws that include sexual orientation as protected categories, but none involves investigation or enforcement. The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 was the first federal law to add sexual orientation as a protected category, although it does not address investigation or enforcement. Congress also addressed hate crimes against gays and lesbians in the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, both enacted in 1994.
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