In New York City, a few months ago, Michael Sandy was killed in an antigay assault where he was beaten, chased into traffic, hit by a car, and then dragged off the road and attacked a second time by his assailants. On March 14th, 2007, twenty-five year old Ryan Skipper was fatally stabbed twenty times and beaten in Polk County Florida in an anti-gay hate crime and robbery. His body was dumped on the side of the road.
As gruesome and tragic as these stories are, they are but two heart-wrenching examples of thousands of hate crimes that occur all over our country every year. According to the FBI, 25 Americans each day are victims of hate crimes - that means approximately one hate crime is committed every hour. One in six hate crimes are motivated by the victim's sexual orientation.
Every act of violence is tragic and harmful in its consequences, but not all crime is based on hate. A bias-motivated crime affects not only the victim and his or her family but an entire community or category of people. In the most basic terms, hate crimes run counter to everything we believe in and fight for as Americans - freedom, equality, and justice for all.
The current federal hate-crimes law, enacted nearly 40 years ago, covers only bias attacks based on race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion. In the case of a hate crime based on gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, our government's hands are tied -- it doesn't have the authority to prosecute these violent crimes. It's time to update the law to protect everyone, and this year marks our best chance yet to get it done.
This afternoon the House will vote on The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which has broad public and bipartisan support -- including 73% of the American people and more than 210 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations. The legislation does two things: it updates the law by covering ALL Americans, and it puts crucial federal resources into the hands of local law enforcement.
This legislation has previously passed both houses of Congress in recent years, but was ultimately derailed by Republican leadership bowing to pressure from Republican extremists.
Predictably, anti-gay extremist organizations are at it again. Marking a new low in politics, these groups have embraced the work of a known white supremacist filmmaker, callously invoked the Virginia Tech massacre, blatantly lied about the Congressional record and even used the name and image of Jesus Christ in vain -- all in order to block passage of a bill that does nothing but provide equal protection under the law for every American.
In an action alert to members nationwide, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, incredibly used the memory of the Virginia Tech massacre to rally his troops against the hate crimes bill, stating that its passage would provide "a homosexual would have more federal protection under the law than the 32 victims of last week's massacre."
The Traditional Values Coalition created and disseminated a fake transcript of last week's House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Hate Crimes bill to "prove" that the legislation would punish anti-gay thoughts. The falsified transcript doesn't even remotely resemble the official transcript of the proceeding. They even produced a "wanted poster" in which Jesus Christ, wearing a crown of thorns, is wanted for violating the proposed hate crimes bill. The poster states that Christ is "wanted for revealing the truth about homosexuality in 'The Bible' and encouraging his followers not to offend God by committing such behavior." Is abusing the image of Christ in order to divide and discriminate really the Christian way?
These extremists have nothing to fear. Even after the hate crimes legislation is passed, the religious right will continue to have the federally protected right to preach hatred from the pulpit and disseminate the videos of white supremacists.
But what they should fear is average Americans who have grown tired of the desperate politics of divide and distort. They rejected it in 2006, and they'll reject it again.
Today, when the hate crimes bill comes to a vote, we know that some right wing Republicans will play procedural games to divide the House and derail the bill. House members need to ask themselves -- do their constituents want them to fight for what's right and just, or do they want them to be tools of the most divisive and desperate political groups of our time?
James C. Dobson sent out a message to his followers last night asking a quarter-million Americans to take action against this bill.
That means we need a quarter-million Americans plus one to fight against Dobson and his crew, or simply some principled and courageous members on the house floor tomorrow to stand up and say enough is enough. I vote for the latter.