Protecting Communities From Violent Crimes Motivated By Prejudice

Mr. Merkley

Friends and colleagues, I rise today because of a document that our forefathers
signed 233 years ago, the Declaration of Independence.  Specifically, the Declaration stated, “We
hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.  They’re endowed by their creator with certain
unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness.”  That simple phrase created
the bedrock foundation for a nation founded under the equality under the law
and freedom from persecution and the pursuit of happiness by our citizens.  The government by and for the governed under
the concepts of equality and freedom from persecution.   It is
an honor to rise today to advocate for that philosophy.  I rise in strong support of the Leahy
amendment which would amend the Department of Defense bill to include the Matthew
Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. 

First, I want to thank and acknowledge Senator Kennedy for
his strong decade-long commitment to this legislation.  I extend my appreciation to Senator Leahy for
leading this effort in Senator Kennedy’s absence.  It has been more than ten years since Matthew
Shepard was brutally murdered simply because of his sexual orientation.  It is long past time that we take action to
strengthen the federal government’s ability to investigate and prosecute hate

There is no room in our societies for these acts of
prejudice.  Hate crimes fragment and
isolate our communities.  They tear at
our collective spirit.  They seek to
terrorize our society through brutal violence against targeted
individuals.  The Matthew Shepard Hate
Crimes Prevention Act is a critical step to protect those who are victimized
simply for who they are. 

Now, hate crimes legislation is not a new concept.  In fact, the United States of America has had
hate crime laws in place for forty years. 
The Hate Crime Act of 1969 was passed shortly after the assassination of
Martin Luther King.  That assassination
motivated congress to action.  That law
says – and I quote – “It is illegal to willfully injure, intimidate or
interfere with any person or attempt to do so by force or threat of force
because of that other person’s race, color, religion or national origin.”  That hate crimes law was passed by our
parents’ generation to address the hate crimes so evident through the
assassination of Martin Luther King and so many other actions in the 1960’s.

Now it is time for our generation to pass a hate crimes bill
that will strengthen the work done by our forefathers 40 years ago and that
will address new forms of hate crime that have become far too prevalent in our
society.  We need to add provisions to
prosecute those violent acts based on gender, gender identity, disability and
sexual orientation.  Of the 7,624 single
bias incidents reported in 2007, more than 16% resulted from sexual orientation
bias, indicating that members of the gay and lesbian community are victimized
nearly six times more frequently than an average citizen. 

Just this last spring we experienced a terrible incident in
my home state.  In March, two men,
Sampson Deal and Kevin Peterson were visiting the Oregon coast during their
spring break.  They wandered away from an
evening camp fire and ran into a group of four strangers who asked if they were
gay and then called them derogatory names. 
And then these two men were beaten brutally and left unconscious on the
beach.  Now this is in the town of
Seaside.  A place I visited many, many
times in my life.  A beach I’ve walked on
many times in my life.  Seaside Police Chief
Bob Gross police said that the Seaside police have had some hate crimes before,
mostly threats, but never dealt with anything this serious. 

Now I’m happy to report that Sampson and Kevin lived through
this incident, but many do not.  The
attack could have been worse.  According
to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2007 saw the greatest
number of anti-LGBT murders in eight years. 
Twenty-one gay and transgendered people were murdered in the United
States in 2007, more than double the number of 2006.  Currently only 11 states and the District of
Columbia include laws including gender identity based crimes.  We must make sure that gender identity is
protected characteristic included in this legislation.

But members of the gay community are not the only
victims.  We were all shocked last month
when Steven Johns, a guard at the Holocaust Museum was shot and killed by a
white supremacist.  And recent numbers
suggest that hate crimes against individuals in the Hispanic community increased
by a staggering 40% between 2003 and 2007. 
According to a recent report from the Leadership Conference on the civil
rights education fund, in the nearly 20 years since the enactment of the Hate
Crimes Statistic Act, the numbers of hate crimes hovered around – House
Oversight Committee around 7500 annually. 
Nearly one every single hour.  And
as if that figure isn’t high enough, it is well known that data collected on
hate crimes almost certainly understates the true numbers because victims are
often afraid to report the crimes or local authorities do not accurately report
the crimes as hate crimes, which means they don’t get reported to the federal

Now, what specifically is in this legislation?  It gives the Department of Justice the power
to investigate and prosecute bias motivated violence.  It provides the Department of Justice with
the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions.  It makes grants available to state and local
communities to combat violent crimes.  It
authorizes the attorney general to provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial
and other assistance to state and local government.  It authorizes grants from the Justice
Department of up to $100,000 for state, local and tribal law enforcement
officials who have incurred extraordinary expenses in the prosecution or
investigation of hate crimes.  It
authorizes the Treasury Department and the Justice Department to increase
personnel to better prevent and respond to allegations of hate crimes.  And it requires the FBI to expand their statistic
gathering so that we can better understand the types and structures of hate
crimes in the United States of America.

Now these provisions will strengthen the original facets of
the legislation from 1969 and that legislation, as I noted, addressed issues
related to race and color and religion or national origin.  All that’s improved, all that’s improved in
this piece of legislation.  But in
addition we expand this legislation to address the hate crimes that we now see
so prevalent in the LGBT community as victims. 

Our constitution laid out a vision.  Now we didn’t have complete equality under
that vision in 1776.  Indeed it was a
vision far ahead of its time and we’ve gradually worked towards it.  We have extended our law to protect women, to
include more folks to vote, to enable people to get rid of the racial
boundaries that existed for voting.  And
so on and so forth.  We have steadily
sought to take strides towards that vision of equality under the law and the
ability to pursue happiness without the fear of persecution.  Today I’m advocating that we take another
important stride toward that goal our forefathers – that vision our forefathers
laid out before us.  Martin Luther King
said the long arc of history bends towards justice.  But it doesn’t bend by itself.  It is bent by citizens who say this is wrong
and we’re going to do something about it. And this great strengthening of hate
crimes legislation here the United States is a huge stride towards equality
under the law and freedom from persecution. 
I encourage all of my colleagues to join in taking this historic stride

Thank you, Madam President.