The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed by Pres. Barack Obama
expands federal hate crimes legislation to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
How Does The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Act Change Previous Laws?:
The bill expands previous hate crime legislation by:
- removing the current prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity, like voting or going to school;
- giving federal law enforcement agencies greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue;
- providing $10 million in funding for 2008 and 2009 to help state and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes; and by
- requiring the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations didn't begin tallying national crime statistics
or investigating hate crimes until 1924 under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover. And according to the FBI, the term "hate crime" didn't enter the national vocabulary until the 1980s.
In April of 1968, a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, expanding the previous 1964 act to include race, color, religion or national origin.
Human rights activists and legislators began pushing for an additional expansion of hate crimes legislation after the brutal killings of James Byrd, Jr., an African American man in Texas, and Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming youth. Numerous bills—the most notable being the Federal Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act
—have been introduced, but failed in conservative-led sessions.
However, on October 28, 2009, eleven years after the death of Byrd and Shepard, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama following successful House
votes. The act widens federal hate crimes laws to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability bias.