Senate Passes Long Overdue Hate Crimes Legislation

Every time you celebrate Christmas, a birthday, the Fourth of July, remember that Matt isn’t. Every time you wake up in your prison cell, remember that you had the opportunity and the ability to stop your actions that night. You robbed me of something very precious, and I’ll never forgive you for that. Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of the one who no longer lives. May you have a long life, and may you thank Matthew everyday for it

-Matthew Shepard’s father in The Laramie Project (96)

Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered more than a decade ago. We just marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Luis Ramirez. At long last, people attacked because of their sexual orientation or gender would receive federal protections under the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act (S.909), which seeks to expand hate crimes law by enabling federal grants and investigation help to local law enforcement agencies.

The measure was tagged onto a defense authorization bill and approved by the Senate. Now it is up to President Obama on whether he would veto the bill, which includes $1.75 billion for seven F-22 fighter jets that he disapproves or approves the bill given that he supports the hate crimes bill.

Speaking about hate crimes protections, Harry Reid touched on the story of Luis Ramirez and how hate crimes not only affect the victim but entire communities:

Luis Ramirez picked strawberries and cherries to support his three children and fiance. 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.
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.

All violent crimes are reprehensible. But the damage done by hate crimes cannot be measured solely in terms of physical injury or dollars and cents. Hate crimes against minorities tear the fabric of our society, and divide communities because they target a whole group and not just the individual victim. Hate crimes are committed to make an entire community fearful. A violent hate crime is intended to “send a message” that a person and her or his “kind” will not be tolerated, many times leaving the victim and others in their group feeling isolated, vulnerable and unprotected.

The Mathew Shepard Hate Crimes Act is a message that is long overdue.

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