Thursday, October 29, 2009

Local Law Enforcement Gets Help In the Investigation & Prosecution of Crimes Motivated by Hate




Google the names of Heather Ellis and Walter Currie, Jr., and you will know that hate crimes are an issue in Missouri. Reports of violent hate crimes are increasing. Walter Currie, Jr.'s attacker set him on fire reminiscent of lynchings thought long in the past. Heather Ellis reports that the Kennett Police force has officers/members of the KKK who are intimidating her family while the prosecutor files criminal charges unequally. Both cases have drawn the nation's attention to the Show Me State. In the face of local inaction, the federal government has once again passed legislation to protect all Missourians because Missouri's existing state laws are not being properly enforced at the local level.

October 28, 2009, President Barack Obama signed legislation into law that significantly expands the role the federal government can play in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. The full House of Representatives passed this legislation on October 8, 2009, by a vote of 281 to 146; the Senate passed the final version of the bill on October 22, by a margin of 68 to 29.

Hate crimes remain a festering and horrifying problem in the United States. This form of domestic terrorism is designed to intimidate whole communities on the basis of personal and immutable characteristics – and can spark widespread neighborhood conflicts, even damaging the very fabric of our society. Although there are laws on the books that help deter hate crimes and protect their victims, significant gaps remain unfilled. Sadly, the number of hate crimes in America continues to increase, and the number of “hate groups” (an organization that promotes hate or violence towards members of an entire class of people, based on characteristics such as race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation) in the United States increased to 926 in 2008, up 54 percent since 2000.

Prior to enactment of the legislation earlier today, the federal government was allowed to intervene in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes only if they occur on federal property or if the victim was participating in one of six very specific activities, such as voting. The Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expands existing hate crime prevention laws and allow the federal government to assist local authorities in the investigation and prosecution of crimes motivated by hate, regardless of where or what the victim was doing at the time the crime occurred. It would also expand the definition of a hate crime to include those motivated by the victim’s disability, gender or sexual orientation and it would provide money to states to develop hate crime prevention programs.

In short, this proposed hate crimes prevention legislation would allow the federal government to work with state and local authorities to prevent or, if necessary, punish hate crimes to the fullest extent possible. As past cases have clearly demonstrated, the federal government is often needed to compliment state and local efforts to investigate and prosecute these very complicated and expensive cases.

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