HRC Hails President
Clinton's Endorsement Of Hate Crimes Bill; Hate Crimes Increasingly
More Lethal, According To New Statistics Released In Aftermath of Wyoming
Shepard Murder Trial
- April 6 - Momentum for passing the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA)
continues to expand, with an endorsement today from President Bill Clinton
at a White House press conference. Clinton joins Matthew Shepard’s mother,
Judy Shepard, in leading the charge to pass legislation that would extend
current federal hate crimes protection to cover gender, sexual orientation
and disability. According to HRC, new statistics released today by the
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs showing increased savagery
in anti-gay attacks, as well yesterday’s sentencing of Russell A. Henderson,
one of two men accused of killing Matthew Shepard, punctuates the need
for state and federal hate crimes laws.
“The President has always understood the importance of sending the message
that a hate crime committed against one American is a crime against
all Americans and is an assault on our society’s core values,” said
HRC Political Director Winnie Stachelberg. “We hope Congress and lawmakers
in all 50 states can match President Clinton’s and Judy Shepard’s will,
determination and commitment to ending hate motivated violence.”
In announcing his support for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, President
Clinton put hate crimes against gay people in the context of ethnic
and religious conflicts in Kosovo, Rwanda, and elsewhere. Clinton called
on our nation to be an example for the world in tolerance and diversity.
“Our diversity is a godsend for us, and the world of the 21st century,”
said Clinton at the press conference. “But it also has the potential
for the old, haunting demons that are hard to root out of the human
spirit. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would be important, substantively
and symbolically, to send a message to ourselves and to the world that
we are going into the 21st century determined to preach and to practice
what is right.”
Clinton offered several methods to reduce hate crimes in America. The
President said he will ask the Justice and Education Departments to
provide hate crimes information in their annual report cards on school
safety. Clinton will ask the Department of Education to collect data
on hate crimes on college campuses. Clinton also announced the formation
of “a public-private partnership to help reach middle school students
to discuss this whole issue with them and talk about tolerance -- why
it is moral, as well as a practical imperative.”
In a press conference last month, Mrs. Shepard announced her support
for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as well as passing state hate crimes
laws. Mrs. Shepard said hate crimes laws could potentially deter violent
acts by sending a clear message to would-be perpetrators that society
unequivocally condemns hate motivated violence.
“No one will ever know if these laws would have saved...my son’s life.
But we can begin today by building a safer world for all Americans,
including gay and lesbian Americans,” said Mrs. Shepard at the press
conference. “On behalf of my family, I call on the Congress of the United
States to pass the hate Crimes Prevention Act without delay. ”
The need for hate crimes legislation was highlighted by a survey released
today by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which documented
2,552 anti-gay incidents in 1998. The national survey includes reports
from 16 coalition members in locations ranging from San Francisco to
Cleveland to El Paso, Texas. The survey showed an alarming increase
in the brutality of hate crimes, with chilling statistics that communicated
the intensity of anti-gay sentiment behind attacks.
“What we found most disturbing was the attacks were more severe and
much more intense,” said Natalie Chin, a spokeswoman from the Community
United Against Violence, which gathered statistics for the survey in
San Francisco. “Attackers really seem motivated to debase their victims
and cause serious injury.”
According to an article about the survey in the San Francisco Chronicle,
the use of weapons grew at an unprecedented pace. Reports of guns used
during assaults grew 71 percent; ropes and restraints, 133 percent;
vehicles, 150 percent; and the use of blunt objects, clubs, bats in
attacks grew by 47 percent.
The survey follows murder suspect Russell A. Henderson’s guilty plea
yesterday in Laramie, Wyo. to felony murder, as well as the robbery
and kidnaping of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Henderson’s
plea brought a swift conclusion to a nationally watched trial that may
have ended with the death penalty if Henderson was found guilty. District
Judge Jeffery A. Donnell sentenced Henderson to serve two consecutive
According to the Associated Press, defense attorney Wyatt Skaggs said
that Henderson simply watched while co-defendant Aaron J. McKinney killed
Shepard with the butt of his gun. Skaggs also claimed that the slaying
was not premeditated. McKinney will stand trial for first degree murder,
aggravated robbery, and kidnaping in August. If convicted, he could
receive the death penalty.
Henderson’s girlfriend pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact of
the murder on Dec. 23 and is awaiting sentencing. In May, McKinney’s
girlfriend goes on trial on an accessory charge, according to the AP
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) was introduced last month at a
press conference on Capitol Hill. A hearing in the Senate Judiciary
Committee on HCPA is scheduled for April 28.
Hate crimes based on sexual orientation were up 8 percent in 1997, according
to the latest FBI statistics. Sexual orientation was the third highest
category of hate crimes behind race and religion and represented 14
percent of all hate crimes reported.
Currently, hate crimes monitoring and enforcement consists of a patchwork
of laws that offer citizens varying levels of legal protection depending
on where they live. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have
hate crimes laws that include sexual orientation. Twenty one states
have laws that do not include sexual orientation. Eight states have
no hate crimes laws at all.
The Human Rights Campaign is the nation’s largest national lesbian and
gay political organization, with members throughout the country, effectively
lobbies Congress, provides campaign support, and educates the public
to ensure that lesbian and gay Americans can be open, honest, and safe
at home, at work, and in the community.
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