We've all read the news accounts about the African-American family who finds a burning cross on their lawn, the gay man who was tortured and killed because of his sexual orientation, the swastika painted on a synagogue or a Muslim family targeted for hostility. These are hate crimes and they affect not only the individual victim, but every other member of the group that that individual represents.
In 2004, according to FBI statistics, there were more than 7,600 incidents of hate crimes reported in the United States. Most hate crimes are not committed by members of an organized group, but by individuals who resent the growing economic power or achievements of a particular ethnic or racial group.
The number of hate crimes may seem small when compared with the incidence of other types of crimes, but they send a powerful message. They create a sense of fear, vulnerability, insecurity and intimidation in others who may share similar characteristics with the victim. And that is the intent of those who carry out hate crimes.
I am a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I recently joined in co-sponsoring the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, S. 1105, to strengthen existing federal hate crime laws. The House recently passed a similar measure.
While the responsibility for prosecuting hate crimes primarily rests with the individual states, this new measure will give local law enforcement additional tools to combat violent hate crimes. It also will provide federal support through training and assistance to ensure that hate crimes are effectively investigated and prosecuted. In addition, it will ensure that federal investigations and prosecutions are carried out when local authorities request assistance or are unwilling or unable to effectively prosecute cases.
It is important that the federal government have the ability to take action against hate crimes in states in which current law is inadequate. As an example, only 31 states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation-based or disability-based crimes in their hate crimes statutes. This law will help ensure that all hate crimes are fully investigated and prosecuted.
This measure, which has strong bipartisan support, would strengthen existing law in two ways. First, it would eliminate a serious limitation on federal involvement under existing law – namely, the requirement that a victim of a hate crime was attacked because he or she was engaged in federally-protected activity such as voting or attending school. It also would authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Current law does not provide authority for involvement in these four categories.
Hate crimes cannot be tolerated. When individuals are targeted because of who they are, entire communities suffer and we are all diminished by it. This law gives us the tools to be more effective in combating crimes of hate.