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The many kinds of hate crime.

Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten and tied to a fence because he was gay. James Byrd Jr. was tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged two miles to his death because he was black. The deaths of both men brought national attention to the brutality of hate crimes.

Though these recent crimes are the most publicized, the Federal Bureau of Investigation documented 8,759 hate crimes across the country in its most recent Uniform Crime Report, 1996. Released late last year, the report indicated that about 63 percent of the crimes were motivated by race, with 14 percent based on religion, 12 percent on sexual orientation and 11 percent on ethnicity.

Hate crime laws provide increased penalties for those who commit crimes based on bias against race, religion, ethnicity, disability, national origin, gender or sexual orientation. But not all state laws are created equal.

Twenty-one states plus the District of Columbia include crimes based on sexual orientation under hate crime statutes, while 19 do not. Of the remaining 10 states, Texas has a statute that addresses hate crimes in general; however, since it does not name specific characteristics of those it's intended to protect, many deem it difficult to enforce. Tennessee has a "civil rights intimidation" law that does not include sexual orientation. States without hate crime laws include Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, South Carolina and Wyoming.

An increasing number of state legislatures are including gender in the list of prejudices considered to be an element of a hate crime. In 1990, only seven of the 31 states that had hate crime statutes included gender. Today, 19 of the 41 statutes cover victims chosen by reason of their gender, anti that number could increase this year. Legislation to add gender to hate crime statutes has been introduced in Florida, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Virginia. Legislation to add sexual orientation has been introduced in Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oklahoma and Virginia.

"Gender-based hate crimes cannot be easily distinguished from other forms of hate-motivated violence," reports the Anti-Defamation League, which added gender to its model hate crimes statute in 1996.

"Clearly not all crimes against women are gender-based crimes, and prosecutors have discretion in identifying those crimes which should be prosecuted as hate crimes. . . . It is also important to realize that there has not been an overwhelming number of gender-based crimes reported as an extension of domestic violence and rape cases."

Federal protections include the Hate Crimes Sentencing Act, Church Arsons Prevention Act, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act and the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. Currently pending is the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would equalize the variety of protections offered by state laws. Under it, existing federal laws would be amended to allow federal officials to investigate and prosecute cases in which bias violence occurs. The measure would permit federal prosecution without requiring proof that the victim was attacked because he or she was engaged in an activity protected under the Bill of Rights.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Date:May 1, 1999
Words:498
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