WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder urged Congress Thursday to pass a new hate crimes law which would allow the federal government to prosecute cases of violence based on sexual orientation, gender or disability.
Holder, who testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, cited the recent killing of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The alleged assailant is a white supremacist.
Yeah, we desperately need a federal statute because, apparently (if I'm understanding Holder's logic correctly), murder is currently legal in most states and the District of Columbia. That's why that 88-year-old maniac was just let off with a stern warning. We must plug the murder loophole now!
As far as I can surmise, the point of this legislation is to get around the Constitution's ban on double jeopardy by giving prosecutors two tries at politically unpopular defendants: first at the state level, then at the federal level. (Recall the fate of the cops who beat up Rodney King.)
Lawmakers at the hearing debated the possible impact of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill - named after a gay man killed in Wyoming in 1998 - would allow federal prosecution of violence committed because of the actual or perceived gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity of the victim.
For more than a decade, Democrats have sought to update the hate crimes law, which already makes it a federal crime to attack someone because of their race, creed or color.
Republicans at the hearing questioned whether the change would expand federal power unnecessarily into cases already being prosecuted by state and local officials. They also questioned why certain victims of violence should be singled out for particular types of protection.
"That's part of the problem. Some are protected groups and get special protection under this law," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "You argued your case. I've listened to it and I'm not persuaded." According to FBI data, the number of hate crimes per year is relatively unchanged in the past 10 years. In 1998, the FBI reported 7,755 hate crime incidents, and in 2007 the bureau reported 7,624.
About half of all hate crimes are motivated by racial bias. The other two most frequent hate crimes are those motivated by religion or sexual orientation.
Holder said the statistics show hate crimes against Hispanics have increased four years in a row.
You know, that just might have something to do with the overall number of Hispanics increasing four years in a row. Also, there has been an increase in Hispanic-on-black gang violence lately, so black retaliation shows up as a hate crime against Hispanics.
Does the government even track hate crimes committed by Hispanics, or do they get lumped in with whites, which is the practice with most crime statistics?
Sessions and a Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, both voiced concerns that the bill could be used to prosecute a church leader who speaks out against homosexuality, if a member of their congregation then assaults a gay person."This is a bill to hold people accountable for conduct, not for speech," Holder insisted.