Some groups refer to it as the Matthew Shepard Act while others like to call it the Local Law enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA). Both titles refer to a piece of legislation that was designed to protect members of certain communities that may be targets of hate based crime. The paper will look into the details of the Act, the motivations for passing the Act and other details surrounding its implementation.
What is entailed in the Act?
This Act was passed in order to give the Department of Justice the mandate to deal with cases involving violence that is motivated by certain biases. Usually, these are the types of crimes that are committed on the basis of disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, color, perceived or actual race.
The Justice Department is given the mandate to either work hand in hand with local jurisdictions in cases where that respective group does not display that they actually have the ability to deal with this or in order to assist state jurisdictions. This Department is supposed to have an upper hand in the process prosecuting and investigating cases caused by such biases. (Anti Defamation League, 2008)
Through this Act, local governments are also empowered to deal with the latter category of crimes if they have been committed by juveniles. This is possible through grants that are meant to assist in the process of training law enforcement officers here or during the process of prosecuting such officers.
Reasons behind the LLEHCPA
The reason behind the passage of this Act was that violent crimes generally demand special attention. However, because of the overall effect of hate crimes, then there is a need for special legislation in this area. Not only do hate crimes cause physical injury, but they also create scenarios in which different groups in society are divided. It breaks down the fabric of society by making certain communities full of fear.
Such types of violence are not just motivated by financial needs; they are usually done in order to tell members of that chosen community that they will not be accepted by that society. Additionally, when a person is a victim of bias motivated crime, then chances are that they will feel unprotected by their society; they may also fell sidelined and particularly vulnerable. (ADL, 2007)
This Act came against the backdrop of crime Statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the year before the passage of this Act, it was found that the greatest percentage of hate based crimes were against the individuals with different races. The second highest category was those crimes motivated by religious differences and the third category was against people with different sexual orientations. Overly, these statistics revealed that there was still much that had to be done to combat hate crimes thus propelling legislators to act against such biases.
The importance of the Local law enforcement hate crimes prevention act
This Act is important in ascertaining that state and local authorities have been given the power to deal with these bias motivated crimes. Federal groups are incorporated in dealing with these crimes in order to reinforce justice and effectiveness through greater expertise in investigative processes. Additionally, federal authorities’ involvement is meant to relieve local authorities from being overburdened by these types of cases. (Stout, 2007)
The reason behind increasing support for this legislation by certain interest groups is the capacity and the levels of hate crimes committed against certain individuals in society. This is particularly the case for certain categories of people who had not yet been included in the federal hate crimes laws. These groups included;
· Sexual orientation
· Gender identity
It should be noted that prior to this Act, only a narrow definition of victims of hate crimes was considered. In this case, the only groups recognized were religion, national origin, color, ethnicity or race.
The purpose of the Hate Crime prevention Act was to expand the definition or the categories of people who may qualify as victims of hate crimes in the eyes of the law. Additionally, because the legislation is also designed to assist local authorities, then chances are that it will prevent occurrence of hate crimes through the rigorous training and interventions proposed in the Act. (Human Rights Campaign, 2007)
It should be noted that a high percentage of people were motivated to consider hate crimes as a likely issue owing to the fact that this category of crimes are usually quite severe. In fact no single person should ever tolerate being harmed, brutalized, beaten, attacked or hurt in any way just because of what or who they are. This is one of the reasons why the legislations stirred up a lot of reactions from various interest groups.
Besides these, it should be noted that the prevention of hate crimes dates back to as far back as the nineteen sixties. At that time, the issue of race was particularly sensitive and many violence based crimes were committed against racial minorities. Consequently, it became necessary for civil rights groups to rise to the occasion by speaking out against these forms of violence.
This was the reason why there were certain movements that occurred in that era. In the year 1968, legislation was passed to prevent such hate based crimes. Ever since that time, the definitions of violence based crimes began increasing to a point where a substantial majority of individuals who were commonly affected by such crimes were included in the definition.
However, with the passage of time, violence against people with different sexual orientations, gender identities and gender have become increasingly common. This has caused wide concerns from a series of stakeholders thus necessitating the Matthew Sheppard Act. This also means that there is a need to create a situation in which most of the people who may be future victims are protected by the legislation.
The public’s reaction to the legislation
Numerous individuals have demonstrated their support for the legislation. Some of them emanate from political groups, civic rights organizations, religious group and many others. President George Bush was one of the many supporters of this Bill.
The Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Churches were also some of the religious groups that demonstrated their support for this legislation. Additionally, the International Association of chiefs of Police also showed their support for this piece of legislation. Additionally, many groups such as the National Disability Rights Network, The Interfaith Alliance, The National District Attorney’s Association and well known attorney General Dick Thornburgh have demonstrated their support of this Act. (US Department of Justice, 2008)
Besides individual endorsements by numerous groups, one cannot ignore the fact that the overall public usually supports legislations designed to combat hate crimes. This is something that was ascertained through opinion polls. In 2007, the Hart Group; a research based company found that almost all subgroups within the electorate supported legislations designed to combat hate crimes.
These subgroups included certain categories that were normally considered as very conservative. For instance, fifty six percent of all republicans support this legislation. Also, sixty three percent of evangelical Christians threw their weight behind laws that would allow inclusion of persons with transgender identity and differing sexual orientation.
In terms of racial support, it appears as though almost all races support this legislation. For instance, the same research group found that in that year, close to seventy four percent of the entire white respondents demonstrated their support for the bill. Additionally, a similar percentage of African Americans threw their weight behind the Bill while seventy two percent of Latinos supported this Act. (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2007)
A Gallup Poll conducted in the same year also wanted to find out what people thought about the expansion of this legislation to include other categories of individuals who had not been considered as serious victims of hate crimes. It was found that a substantial percentage of people felt that including persons with differing sexual orientation and transgender identities in this category was supported by close to sixty eight percent of all Americans within the country.
The Kaiser family Foundation also conducted its own research and found that about seventy three percent of the public supports this Bill. The latter research was conducted during the month of November 2007. Additionally, the Lake Snell Perry & Associates group found that sixty eight percent of the public believe that persons with transgender identities should be included in prevention of hate crime laws. Given this overwhelming support, then one can see just how serious this problem of hate crimes is in the public arena.
The Status of the LLEHCPA
In the third month of the year 2007, the local law enforcement hate crimes prevention act was introduced into the house by two major legislators i.e. Republican Mark Kirk while the Democrat legislator was John Conyers. The House decided to approve this Act by an overwhelming vote of two hundred and thirty seven votes against the neighs who were one hundred and eighty votes. Twenty five percent of the yes votes were Republicans with the rest falling to the democrat group.
In the Senate, the bill was introduced during the next month i.e. the month of April. At that time, Democrat Edward Kennedy and Republican Gordon Smith were the ones who introduced this Bill into the Senate. Also, there were forty bipartisan co sponsors. Additionally, this was an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that now became known as the Matthew Sheppard Act.
In the month of September during 2007, it was found that sixty against thirty nine members of the Senate voted for closure of this debate on the legislation. In accordance with this, the LLEHCPA was added into the Department of Defense Act. (Arams, 2007)
In the final version of the Bill, the issue of the hate crimes provision was not included. This was as a result of the opponents in the house who did not support this provision. There was a veto threat made by the white house that caused this kind of reaction. Additionally, there were many Republicans who opposed the passage of the legislation and they were highly responsible for causing this poor turnout in the voting system. Additionally, the provision was also affected by certain Iraq related interests. Consequently, most of the assertions made with regard to the latter group caused dwindling support for the legislation. Additionally, certain representatives felt that military personnel would be adversely affected in terms of their pay if they did not pay any attention to the veto threat that had been issued by President Bush. Consequently, all these factors resulted in poor performance of the Bill thus causing it not to be passed by members of the House.
Through this legislation, all legitimate human beings will be accorded the same rights as those who may not belong to their group. They also have the right to be heard and to be protected by the law just like all other individuals.
As of 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation asserted that there are approximately seven thousand, one hundred and sixty three hate crimes committed at that time. Besides that, they also claimed that fourteen percent of these crimes were all based on sexual orientation. It is also a worrying trend that the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not collect statistics based on crimes committed against persons with differing gender identity. Consequently, one cannot assert the extent to which these crimes are prevalent in society. (The Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2007)
It is should also be noted that there are many hate crimes that may not be reported to law enforcement authorities. Part of the reason for this is that victims may not be very sure about state support when it comes to protection of their rights. Consequently, most of them see no point in reporting those cases. Additionally, others may fear judgment from the people around them. These are all reasons that propelled the discussion, debate and support of the Matthew Shippard Bill.
It is also important to note that hate crimes have certain peculiar characteristics that make them particularly sensitive. This also forces various groups to give them particular attention. First of all, hate crimes are normally committed randomly. It is normally difficult for law enforcement officials to look for patterns of hate crimes or areas where they will occur in the future.
This kind of trend is not prevalent in other types of legislation. Also, the potential perpetrators of hate crimes do not fit the typical criminal profile. Most of them maybe emanating from other categories. Consequently, society should look for ways in which they can minimize this through institution of better laws. However, one should not conclude that hate crimes cannot be prevented at all; they simply take differing approaches form the typical methods.
Opposition against the LLEHCPA/ Matthew Shepard Act
While a substantial number of people support the latter Act, there are still many more who oppose it. Most of the people who fight it are conservative groups that refuse to accept the fact that society is changing. These are mostly religious groups that may be interested in maintaining the status quo. Such groups usually believe that persons with unconventional sexual orientation or gender identity are not behaving morally. Consequently, by protecting their rights, the state will be legitimizing their actions.
In fact, the New York Blade reported that the Traditional Values Coalition chairman Reverend Louis Sheldon asserted that the hate crimes bill would a platform against which people who acted in accordance with strict religious teachings were investigated and persecuted. He believed that business owners, pastors and business persons would be turned into criminals because they are likely to depict signs of supporting such values.
The sentiments carried forward by these religious groups have also been held by other political groups. These are usually the House of Representatives that are emanating from the conservative side. (US Department of Justice, 2008)
In responses to these sentiments, many gay rights movements have asserted that the law is treating them unfairly. They have claimed that the law protects pastors and other religious leaders to preach hatred in the pulpit yet the same law does not recognize the rights of those people who are targeted by such moral ideals.
One can assert that these two sides gave very radical sentiments. However, there are still certain things that have to be tackled with regard to these issues. The people who oppose this piece of legislation are those ones who are founded on the issue of fear. They need to realize that there is indeed nothing to be afraid of. Additionally, there is a need for the gay rights participants to consider the fact that religious groups are not their enemies. Instead, they need to look for more sober methods of voicing their issues rather than confrontational politics.
Details about the legislation
In the month of May 2007, the Senate in its first session debated on the Local law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The major objective of the Act was stated as “provision of assistance to local jurisdictions, stage jurisdictions and natives by the Federal government in the prosecution to hate crime”
Section 2 of the Act classifies hate crime as a definition that is contained in section sixteen and title eighteen of the US Code. Hate crime in this Act also refers to a similar term that is contained in the Violent Crime and law Enforcement Act of 1994; this is in number 280003 (a) of that Act. Additionally, this section of the Act defines the term ‘local’ as used on the title of the legislation as any parish, village, township, city, county or town. (Arams, 2007)
Section 3 of the legislation defines the intricate issues surrounding the Act. In other words, it looks into the assistance to be provided to state, local and tribal enforcement officials. Part (a) of section three examines one form of assistance which considers non-financial assistance. In this case, there is reference to the general assistance that local, state or tribal law enforcement agencies are entitled to upon request from the Attorney General.
Here, the latter group can either be aided in the technical, prosecutorial or forensic aspects of the law only when the crime under consideration is a crime of violence, it is a crime under the local, tribal or state law or it is motivated by biases on religion, place of origin, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity, color or race of the victim.
This latter section also gives priority to certain areas. For instance, it is clearly stated that priority will be given to rural areas that lack adequate finances to tackle this issue. Besides this, crimes that have been committed by perpetrators in two States or more will have greater priority.
Part (b) of section three considers the financial aspect of the Act i.e. the issuance of Grants, in this regard, persons who are entitled to grants are those ones who are having difficulties investigating or prosecuting these cases. Usually, the category considered for this grants may either be tribal, local or state law enforcement agencies. (Arams, 2007)
Additionally, the process of implementing this part of the legislation relates to the office of justice programs as specified in the subsection. The latter office ought to cooperate with grantees in order to ascertain that the following groups affected by these concerns are attended to.
· Community groups
· Particular groups
All this will go a long way in ensuring that the local infrastructure is made so as to create better ways of handling the issue.
Section three subsections (b) also look at some of the details surrounding applications for these grants in paragraph 3. All the law enforcement agencies mentioned above are supposed to adhere to all the requirements made by the Attorney General during the application process. Besides the latter, they are also supposed to submit their application within a period of sixty days from the time which the attorney general chooses to describe in the law stated above.
Some of the requirements of the grants as specified in this subsection include; the existence of extra ordinary circumstances that would really necessitate the grant. Secondly, applicants need to show that they lack the resources to either investigate or prosecute those crimes on their own. Also, law enforcement agencies must show that they have engaged in intense consultation with non profit or non-governmental organizations that specialize in the issue of hate crime. (US Department of Justice, 2008)
Another stringent requirement during the process of application of this grant is the non existence or inadequacy of other nongovernmental organizations’ grants in handling hate crimes. The reason behind this is to ascertain that the grants supplement and not supplant one another. Lastly, the deadline for approval or rejection of these grants is outlined at thirty business days after reception of the application. All single jurisdictions cannot receive more than one hundred thousand dollars within the period of one year. The appropriations of these grants are supposed to be five million US dollars within any fiscal year.
Section four of the Act specifies the Grant program. In other words, it looks at some of the groups that have the power to authorize these grants. The Office of Justice Programs is the one given this mandate and it operates under the Department of Justice Programs. Additionally, care should be taken to ascertain that there are indeed adequate reforms available to deal with these.
Section size of the Legislation looks at the prohibition of hate crimes. Here, the Act describes some of the punishments that an individual will face in case they are found guilty of such offences. In Subsection one of the Act, anyone who may be found guilty of causing body harm to another individual willfully will be prosecuted and charged for their crime. In other words, when someone uses an incendiary device, a firearm, fire or actual harm to another owing to their color, race or any of the latter mentioned categories, then they are liable to imprisonment for a period of not greater than ten years or they are required to pay up a fine.
In this section of the Act, directions are given on what to do in case a victim dies as a result of these crimes. It is stated that the criminal may be susceptible to severing a life sentence. Additionally, the latter punishment is also plausible in the event that the crime constitutes kidnapping or it entails certain forms of sexual abuse or attempts to do the latter.
Section six of the Act also defines some of the terms used in the Act, in other words, an incendiary device carries the same meaning as that asserted in sections 232 of this Act. The word firearm refers to the meaning created in section nine hundred and twenty one of the constitution. Gender identity in this section of the constitution refers to the perceived or actual gender characteristics of a certain individual. (US Department of Justice, 2008)
It should also be noted that in section six, there are specifications of the circumstances under which evidence may be expressed. Evidence in hate crime can only be admissible in court if it found that that evidence relates specifically to the case under consideration. However, when a witness has to be impeached, then these rules do not necessarily apply to him or her.
Section seven of the Act looks at the severability of its application. If it has been found that the person to who the latter amendment has been applied is not treated constitutionally, then all these requirements will not be deemed relevant with reference to that person.
The Matthews Sheppard Act 2007 was proposed in order to amend certain sections of previous hate crime laws. The most notable amongst them is the incorporation of persons with disability, gender identity or sexual orientation into the ACT. The second aspect is with regard to assistance offered to local law enforcement agencies by the attorney general.
ADL (2007): Hate Crime Sentencing Act, retrieved from http://www.adl.org/ accessed on 5th November 2008
Stout, D. (2007): House Votes to Expand Hate Crime protections, The New York Times, 3rd May 2008
Human Rights Campaign (2007): The local Law Enforcement hate Crimes Prevention Act, Free Press
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (2007): Hate Crimes protections Timeline, retrieved from http://www.thetaskforce.org/ accessed on 5th November 2008
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (2007): Hate Crime Statistics, retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/ accessed on 5th November 2008
Arams, J. (2007): House Passes Extended Hate Crimes Bill, Guardian Unlimited, 3rd March
Anti Defamation League (2008): Hate Crime statutes by State, associate Press
US Department of Justice (2008): Hate Crime Legislation, retrieved from http://www.ncjrs.gov/ accessed on 5th November 2008