By voting overwhelmingly to extend to these often-targeted Americans our nation’s decades-old bias crime legislation, senators sent the message that hate crimes will not go unpunished, and local governments and law enforcement agencies will not run out of financial resources to provide justice to these victims and their loved ones.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act was attached earlier this year to the annual Defense Department spending bill, and Thursday’s 68-29 Senate vote to approve the final House-Senate compromise on the defense bill now sends this important law enforcement provision to President Obama, who has vowed to sign it.
Under the legislation, federal prosecutors could step in to try violent hate-crime cases if local authorities cannot or will not secure an appropriate conviction. It also opens up federal funding for law enforcement to handle the typically high cost of investigation and judicial proceedings in such cases, and would make grants available for training and prevention programs at the local level.
The act is named to honor Matthew Shepard as well as James Byrd, an African-American resident of Texas brutally dragged to death in 1998 in a notorious hate crime. Matthew’s parents Dennis and Judy Shepard have campaigned for the legislation’s passage for more than a decade since their son’s murder in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998 in an anti-gay hate crime.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation applauds Congress and President Obama for their steady and successful efforts throughout 2009 to bring the legislation to this point. We eagerly anticipate its final enactment and wish to thank the countless organizations and individuals who have worked tirelessly for its passage.
Yahoo, about time is all I can say!