September 27, 2007

Whitehouse Applauds Senate Approval for Hate Crimes Legislation

Former Rhode Island Attorney General Says Measure Gives Local Law Enforcement Stronger Tools to Combat Crimes of Bias

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate today approved a measure cosponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to give local law enforcement stronger tools to prosecute hate crimes. The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2007 (S. 1105) expands the federal hate crimes statute to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability status. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has documented more than 114,000 hate crimes since 1991.

“Crimes of hate are unacceptable and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Whitehouse, a former Rhode Island Attorney General who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’m proud to support this effort to protect more Americans and end these crimes of bias forever.”

The Matthew Shepard Act is named for the 21-year-old Wyoming man whose brutal murder in 1998 brought new national attention to crimes of hate. The bill would give local law enforcement officials important tools, like training or direct assistance, to combat crimes that show evidence of prejudice based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, and disability status; and encourage Americans to report hate crimes, through increased public education and awareness.

The bill also would allow local prosecutors to pursue bias-motivated crime under federal law in areas in which state statutes are inadequate. Currently, only 27 states and Washington, D.C. classify gender-based crimes as hate crimes; 31 states and Washington, D.C. include sexual-orientation based crimes; and only 31 states and Washington, D.C. include disability-based crimes. Rhode Island General Law § 12-19-38 provides for stronger penalties in cases in which victims of crimes are chosen “hatred or animus toward [his or her] actual or perceived disability, religion, color, race, national origin or ancestry, sexual orientation, or gender.”

S. 1105 was adopted as an amendment to the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill now under consideration by the Senate. Congress is expected to pass that measure in coming days.


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