Senate Votes Against Hate

Late last night the Senate voted to add the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill.  This bill would help bring justice to those who intentionally choose their victims based on race, color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.  It would authorize the federal government to prosecute a hate crime when a state is unwilling or unable to do so - this is an important step against the recent wave of hate crimes, many of which have gone unpunished.  Congratulations to Majority Leader Reid and to the Senate for its action!

Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the Senate floor to urge the passage of Hate Crimes Amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill:

“Luis Ramirez picked strawberries and cherries to support his three children and fiancée.  When he wasn’t working in the fields, he worked a second job in a local factory in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania – a coal town of 5,000 people.

“As Luis was walking home one Saturday night, six high-schoolers jumped him in a park.  They taunted and screamed racial slurs at Luis, who came to this small town in the middle of Pennsylvania from a small town in the middle of Mexico.

“The boys didn’t stop there. They punched him and kicked him.  When Luis’ friend pleaded with the teenagers to stop, one yelled back: “Tell your Mexican friends to get out of town, or you’ll be lying next to him.”

“The boys stomped on Luis so hard that an imprint of the necklace he was wearing was embedded into his chest.  They beat him so badly and so brutally that he never regained consciousness.

“On July 14, 2008 – two days after the beating and exactly one year ago yesterday – Luis Ramirez died. He was 25 years old.
“Hate crimes embody a unique brand of evil.

“A violent act may physically hurt just a single victim and cause grief for loved ones.  But hate crimes do more.  They distress entire communities, entire groups of people, and our entire country.

“Senator Kennedy has for many years so courageously fought for the legislation Sen. Leahy and I offered as an amendment today to the Defense Authorization bill.  Senator Kennedy has correctly called hate crimes a form of domestic terrorism, and it is our obligation to protect Americans from such terror. 

“The hate crimes bill will help bring justice to those who intentionally choose their victims based on race, color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity or disability.

“Hate crimes are rampant and their numbers are rising.  The Department of Justice estimates that hundreds happen every day.

“But right now, state and local governments are on their own when it comes to prosecuting even the most violent crimes, and conducting the most extensive and expensive investigations.

“State and local governments will always come first.  But if those governments are unwilling or unable to prosecute hate crimes – and if the Justice Department believes that may mean justice will not be served – this law will let the federal authorities lend a hand to state and local authorities.

“This bill is named after Matthew Shepard, who was a 21-year-old college student in 1998 when he was tortured and killed for being gay.  When Wyoming police pursued justice in his murder, they needed resources they didn’t have.

“The police couldn’t call on federal law enforcement for help, and their expensive investigation devastated their small police department.  Five officers were laid off as a direct result of how much that case cost.  When this bill becomes law, that will never happen again.

“We must not be afraid to call these crimes what they are.  The American people know this is the right thing to do.  Hundreds of legal, law enforcement, civil rights and human rights groups know this is the right thing to do.  The United States Senate knows this is the right thing to do.

“This bill simply recognizes that there is a difference between assaulting someone to steal his money, or doing so because he is gay, or disabled, or Latino or Muslim.
“That there is a difference between setting fire to an office building, and setting fire to a church, or a synagogue or a mosque.

“That there is a difference – as we learned so tragically just last month – between shooting a security guard, and shooting him because he works at the Holocaust Museum.

“It is a shame that we often do not discuss our responsibility to do something about horrific hate crimes until after another one has been committed.  It means that we always seem to act too late.

“But that does not mean we shouldn’t act now.  It means, in fact, the opposite – it means we must act before another one of our sons or daughters or friends or partners is attacked or killed merely because of who they are.

“We must act in the name of Thomas Lahey, who was beaten unconscious in Las Vegas for being gay.

 “We must act in the name of Jammie Ingle, who was beaten and bludgeoned to death in Laughlin, Nevada, for the same reason.

“We must act in the name of Tony Montgomery, who was shot and killed in Reno because he was African American.

 “We must act in the name of those who worship at Temple Emanu El in Reno, a synagogue that has twice been firebombed by skinheads.

“We must act in the name of Luis Ramirez, who died one year ago this week.

“And we must act in the name of Matthew Shepard, whose family has fought tirelessly in the 10 years since his brutal murder so that others may know justice.

“If their country does not stand up for them – if we do not stand up for what is right – who will?”