The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Brenda Bowser Soder (202) 370-3323,

HRF Urges Senate to Adopt Federal Hate Crime Law


Dear Senator:

I write to express Human Rights First's strong
support of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909).
This important legislation will help to ensure that law enforcement
authorities have the tools they need to combat violent hate crime in
the United States.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws,
but many of those laws do not cover crimes based on disability, gender,
gender identity, or sexual orientation. S. 909 would close this gap by
providing federal law enforcement officials with the authority to
investigate and prosecute a wider range of bias violence, including
that based on disability, gender, gender identity or sexual
orientation. And while state and local authorities will continue to
investigate and prosecute the large majority of hate crime cases, S.
909 would provide an important backstop by ensuring that federal
authorities can provide assistance in state and local hate crime
investigations and by authorizing federal prosecutions when state and
local authorities are unable or unwilling to act.

Hate crime is a serious problem in the United States. As we documented in our 2008 report on Hate Crime in the United States,
hate crimes in this country include assaults on individuals, damage to
homes and personal property, and attacks on places of worship,
cemeteries, community centers, and schools. In 2007, the FBI documented
7,624 hate crimes directed against institutions and individuals because
of their race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or
disability. Behind these statistics are individuals, families, and
communities deeply impacted by these violent crimes. By undermining the
shared value of equality and nondiscrimination, violent hate crimes
also threaten the very fabric of the increasingly diverse society in
which we live.

Violent hate crime is a worldwide problem. In our 2008 Hate Crime Survey
we documented a rising tide of racist, antisemitic, anti-Muslim and
homophobic violence across Europe and the former Soviet Union and found
that the majority of governments in these countries are failing to adequately address the problem.
The U.S. has led efforts to confront this scourge through its foreign
policy and through engagement in multilateral institutions such as the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In addition to
strengthening the U.S. government's response to hate crime at home,
enactment of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act would
enhance global leadership by the U.S. on this issue, enabling the U.S.
to more effectively encourage other governments to strengthen their
responses to hate crimes.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act has been endorsed by
more than 275 national civil rights, professional, civic, education,
and religious groups, twenty-six state Attorneys General, and a number
of the most important national law enforcement organizations in
America. In the 110th Congress, sixty Senators voted in support of a
very similar measure. Last month, we welcomed passage in the House of
Representatives (by a bipartisan vote of 249-175 of the Local Law
Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913).

We urge swift passage of S.909. Please do not hesitate to contact
our office if you have questions about this legislation or if we can be
helpful in any way.


Elisa Massimino Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.