Hounded: Why Obama's Hate Crime Law Matters

04/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At last the US has the federal hate crime legislation that disabled people (and other important groups) need to protect themselves from the abuse, harassment, and in some cases, torture, rape and murder that comes their way. As President Obama said, in October last year: "No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are, or because they live with a disability."

But a word of warning - we've had hate crime laws in the UK for the five years - but the violence has continued unabated. Just last week, when I was speaking to a conference of prosecutors, police, council officials and local disabled people in the north of England, news came through of another disabled woman who had been murdered - because she had annoyed her friends with actions clearly related to her impairment. They beat her to death - because of her laugh. That case wasn't treated as a disability hate crime - no surprise there, because very few are, despite the laws being in place.

I wrote the first pan-disability hate crime report in the UK in 2008 on this subject. Getting Away with Murder, as I called it provocatively, did what it said on the tin. It listed, in depressing detail, over 50 cases where disabled people in England and Wales (the laws are different in Scotland) were targeted in the most blatant of ways - yet police, prosecutors and the judiciary failed to investigate, prosecute or sentence the cases as hate crimes.

Things have gotten better since then - at least the criminal justice system is starting to ask "is this a hate crime?" when faced with one of the numerous crimes against a disabled person. And convictions are going up - albeit from a very low number in the first place.

But there is a long journey ahead. Welcome aboard, though, it's great that at last the American people have hate crimes laws worthy of the nation. You, after all, inspired us all with your civil rights struggle in the '60's. The fight of the Vietnam War veterans inspired our disability rights movement. Perhaps it's time now that we inspired you into acting on disability hate crime.

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