Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Action Alert: NAACP calls on the US Senate for swift enactment of expanded Hate crime prevention and protection legislation

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. Just last week, our nation was horrified to witness another hate crime at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Currently, the federal government is 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 "Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act" (H.R. 1913, introduced by Congressman John Conyers, MI) would expand existing hate crime prevention laws and allow the federal government to assist the 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. H.R. 1913 passed the House of Representatives on April 29, 2009, by a vote of 249 yeas to 145 nays. We are now awaiting Senate action, where Senator Kennedy (MA) has introduced companion legislation, S. 909.

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. While the NAACP believes that states should continue to play the primary role in the prosecution of hate crime violence, a federal law is needed to compliment state statutes and assist the states in securing the very complicated and expensive cases through prosecution.

If you have any questions, call Hilary Shelton at the Washington Bureau at (202) 463-2940.

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