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No-friends of the hate-crimes bill: the gay-friendly Quakers come out against the federal bill.

The typically pro-gay Religious Society of Friends--the Quaker church--surprised many gay men and lesbians on August 16, when its social justice activism arm, the American Friends Service Committee, took a strong stand against hate-crimes laws, calling them "seriously flawed." AFSC spokeswoman Katherine Whitlock says the group opposes the proposed federal Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act because it would disproportionately affect minorities and the poor by handing too much power to a federal criminal justice system "which we feel mirrors the hate and violence in our society."

"We understand the good intentions of hate-crimes [legislation] proponents," Whitlock says. "But perhaps they don't have as much experience [as we do] with the criminal justice system. There's danger of expanding law enforcement by paying a price in civil rights."

The bill "focuses almost exclusively on criminal justice, not on prevention," she argues, which is "a dangerously simplistic approach to a complex problem. You can't effectively address hate violence without addressing deep-seated social and economic inequality."

The Quakers' action probably won't have much impact in Congress, where support for the hate-crimes bill is stronger than it has ever been. But it left the AFSC open to criticism that it's playing into the hands of the right wing. And it left national gay groups scrambling to put a positive spin on what is, essentially, mutiny by one of their oldest allies.

David Elliot, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which supports the federal proposal, agrees that "it's legitimate to ask if penalty enhancement is really the most effective way to combat homophobia. There's nothing in this report we couldn't agree with."

Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, notes simply that hundreds of groups, a congressional majority, and 85% of the public support the federal proposal, "so the fact that one organization comes out in opposition needs to be put in perspective." Also, Stachelberg says, "They've overinterpreted the federal bill. It's not a penalty-enhancement bill." Rather, it allows federal prosecution (and 10-year sentences) when local handling of hate-motivated violence is considered insufficient to "the federal interest" in preventing and punishing such crimes. It does allow for enhanced sentencing if an adult recruits a minor into committing a hate crime.

Matt Coles, director of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the federal bill because of concerns over proving intent, agrees that the legislation would establish "not an enhancement [but] a whole new crime" by adding gender, sexual orientation, and disability to the characteristics already protected under federal law. "And in the case of race," he adds, "it's a big expansion of an old crime."
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Title Annotation:Hate crimes: a special report
Author:Kirby, David
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 9, 2001
Words:442
Previous Article:The education of Sen. Smith: the staunch Oregon Republican becomes one of the biggest Senate supporters of the federal hate-crimes bill.
Next Article:Remembering Jesse: the archconservativess planned retirement marks the end of a painful antigay era in Congress.
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