President Barack Obama signed the historic Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act yesterday. The bill extends the definition of federal hate crimes to include attacks motivated by sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability and empowers federal authorities to help local law enforcement investigate hate crimes.
In his remarks yesterday, President Obama said, “In the most recent year for which we have data, the FBI reported roughly 7,600 hate crimes in this country. Over the past 10 years, there were more than 12,000 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation alone. And we will never know how many incidents were never reported at all…no one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability.”
The law is named for two men who were slain in alleged hate crimes in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a gay university student, was murdered in Wyoming, and James Byrd, Jr., an African-American man, was dragged to death by white supremacists in Texas. Previously, the federal hate crimes law only covered attacks motivated by race, color, national origin or religion.
Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard wrote, “The legislation went through so many versions and so many votes that we had to constantly keep our hopes in check to keep from getting discouraged…But with President Obama’s support and the continually growing bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate lining up behind the bill this year, it became clear that 2009 was the year it would finally happen.”
The Senate passed the legislation last week on a 68 to 29 vote. The bill passed in the House on October 8 with a vote of 281 to 146.