Bill means hate-motivated violence no longer acceptable
written by Andrew L. Rosenkranz,
Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel -November 8, 2009
After more than a decade of obstruction and delay, President Obama signed a landmark federal hate crimes law called the "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act." First introduced to Congress in 1997, this comprehensive law will provide federal, state and local law enforcement with powerful new tools to investigate, prosecute and counter hate-motivated violence.
The HCPA is a reflection of the magnitude of hate crimes. These offenses strike fear within victimized groups, polarize entire communities and tear at our nation's core values. Passage of this color-blind law, which protects any person victimized because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability sends the resounding message that hate-motivated violence is unacceptable.
Supported by the most important law enforcement organizations and officials in the country, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National District Attorneys Association and Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, the HCPA will provide for expanded federal involvement in investigating and prosecuting hate violence, and it will arm local officials with the resources to address these terrible crimes.
Unlike Georgia and South Carolina, which have no hate crimes law protection, Florida already has a strong hate crime statute in place. While it's encouraging that only 182 hate crimes were reported in Florida in 2008, according to a recent report released by the State Attorney General's Office, hate crimes are unfortunately underreported for many reasons. In fact, in 2008, only 72 out of Florida's 413 law enforcement agencies reported hate crimes in their jurisdictions.
Especially in these difficult economic times, HCPA equips Florida law enforcement with another important tool in their arsenal against hate. It will provide smaller law enforcement agencies with the financial resources to investigate violent hate crimes and to train their officers on how to investigate these offenses. And it will give the U.S. Department of Justice the authority to step in when local law enforcement refuses to investigate bias-motivated violence.
The passage of the HCPA is the result of the Anti-Defamation League's pioneering efforts in advocating for hate crimes legislation. Since the first ADL model hate crimes statute was drafted almost 30 years ago, 45 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws based on or similar to the ADL model, and the League will continue to play a central role in preventing and responding to hate crimes.
We commend all of our local and federal legislators who supported passage of HCPA.