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Why We Need Hate Crimes Laws

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act


Judy Shepard, mother of the late Matthew Shepard, speaks out for federal hate crime protections.

Judy Shepard, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, speaks out for federal hate crime protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

© Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Hate crimes as especially heinous crimes motivated by bias. Although bias-based crimes have been committed throughout history, 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.

Why we need federal hate crimes laws
Crimes elevated as federal hate crimes allow often overburdened and underfunded local law enforcement officials to receive federal funding and resources to better enable them to solve bias-based crimes.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
On October 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed a widened hate crimes bill, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, into law. The act expands the federal definition of bias-based crimes to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

How does the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Act change existing laws?
The bill expands previous hate crime legislation by providing local law enforcement agencies with more resources and enable the federal agencies to be more proactive in deterring and solving hate-based crimes.

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