Tuesday, April 28, 2009

H.R. 1913 Update - By Mark R. Kerr

As previously reported, on Thursday, April 23, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings to markup H.R. 1913, the "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009,” and after a day of debate and Republican attempts to gut the proposed legislation, by a vote 15 in favor, 12 against, the bill was approved.

As written in the right-wing media outlets and blaring on Fixed Noise, H.R. 1913 would not create a thought police, stifle religious freedom or punish someone for their beliefs. H.R. 1913 would strengthen law enforcement’s ability to fight violent crime – not vigorous debate, not sermons against homosexuality, not hateful speech, not the spreading of misinformation that thrives on constitutionally protected right-wing television, radio, and blogosphere.

"Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act,” H.R. 1913 states, “shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution."

“In a prosecution for an offense under this section, evidence of expression or association of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense. However, nothing in this section affects the rules of evidence governing the impeachment of a witness."

If that sounds familiar for those living in Arizona, because the federal legislation has been written with Arizona’s hate crimes law in mind, since it was one of a few to survive a court case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court year’s back, which ruled most state’s laws dealing with hate crimes, unconstitutional.

What H.R. 1913 actually does is give the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

It provides the Justice Department with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or, where local authorities are unwilling or unable, by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crime resulting in death or serious bodily injury that were motivated by bias.

H.R. 1913 makes grants available to state and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers, or to assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias motivated crimes. (Both Southern Arizona Representatives, Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-CD 7 and Gabrielle Giffords, D-CD 8 are cosponsors)

Very soon, H.R. 1913 will be taken up by the full U.S. House of Representatives and voted on. “We've received word that the House will vote on the Matthew Shepard Act very soon and we know that right-wing groups are flooding Congress with calls, emails and sickening ‘fact sheets’ full of lies about the lives of LGBT Americans,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “We need more calls to Members of Congress, and we need them right away. It has been ten long years and tens of thousands more victims since the Matthew Shepard Act was first introduced in Congress. We are poised for a presidential signature this year but lies from the radical right could easily derail our efforts. We must not allow them to continue to demagogue and distort the truth.”

It takes about 45 seconds. Members of the community are urged to call (202) 224-3121. Callers are urged to tell the Member’s office: Hate crimes against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people are on the rise. One out of every six hate crimes is because of the victim's sexual orientation. Hate crimes have more than one victim. They are intended to create an atmosphere of fear and terrorize entire communities. H.R. 1913 only violent acts – not speech. It does not tell any clergy member what he or she can or can't preach.

Because there is no federal law mandating states and municipalities to report hate crimes, they are often under reported. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s own statistics, based on voluntary reporting, show that since 1991 over 100,000 hate crime offenses have been reported to the FBI, with 7,624 reported in 2007, the FBI’s most recent reporting period. Violent crimes based on sexual orientation constituted 16.6 percent of all hate crimes in 2007, with 1,265 reported for the year.

To take further action to support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (H.R. 1913), please visit: FightHateNow.org.

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