Washington, DC—Senators Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin and Arlen Specter joined Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Nancy Zirkin, Executive Vice President of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), Claudine Karasik, Legislative Staff Attorney of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and other representatives from civil rights organizations this morning to hail the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 conference report. The conference report, passed yesterday, represents a tremendous step toward deterring hate crimes by expanding federal protections and giving law enforcement greater jurisdiction.
“Congress has finally passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” said Senator Leahy.“I was proud to work with Senator Kennedy for more than a decade to enact this bill. We have come together to show that violence against members of any group because of who they are will not be tolerated in this country.”
“It is highly appropriate for this law to be part of the National Defense Authorization Act,” Senator Levin said. “The values our men and women fight for include tolerance and freedom from hate-inspired violence against our citizens. Indeed, hate crimes represent a dangerous variety of domestic terrorism while our troops fight terrorism overseas.”
“I am delighted to see that the long, hard legislative battle, which began in 1997 with the Kennedy-Specter Hate Crimes Bill, has finally come to fruition with the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” said Senator Specter. “Hate crimes are uniquely destructive and divisive because they injure not only the immediate victim, but the community and entire nation. It’s long overdue that we enact legislation that will bring justice to those who commit violent crimes based on bigotry and prejudice.”
“We’re in the home stretch. This critical piece of legislation is on its way to the President’s desk for his signature,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “We look forward to President Obama signing it into law; our nation’s first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence. We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country.”
“This long-awaited legislation will guarantee that a person who is targeted because of his or her race, religion, or because he or she is gay, transgender, or disabled has some legal recourse for a bias-motivated assault or other crime,” said Claudine Karasik, MALDEF Legislative Staff Attorney. “While this relief comes much too late for some victims, like Luis Ramirez and his family, MALDEF believes this law is a pathway for future hate crime victims to achieve the swift justice Mr. Ramirez did not.”
“The passage of this bill now also sends an important and timely message about the dangers of intolerance,” said Nancy Zirkin of LCCR. “Fear and vilification of immigrants, combined with the worst economic downturn in decades and the election of the first African-American president, have caused a surge in the activity of hate groups.”