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The hate crimes bill: how not to remember matthew shepard

by Alexander Cockburn

The hate crimes bill: how not to remember matthew shepard

We’ve got the Hate Crimes Bill, aka the Matthew Shepard Act, aka the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, before Congress and far advanced on its repellent journey towards the statute book. On June 25, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill, which passed the House of Representatives by a 249-175 vote in April. If passed, President Obama is expected to sign it. The Matthew Shepard Act is a hamhanded attempt to right injustice by establishing different legal treatment for some classes of crime victims. The proposed statute classifies as “hate crimes” attacks based on a victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. America is well on its way to making it illegal to say anything nasty about gays, Jews, blacks and women. “Hate speech,” far short of any direct incitement to violence, is on the edge of being criminalized, with the First Amendment gone the way of the dodo. Now, there already is a 1960s federal statute on the books proscribing hate crimes based on race, color, religion or ethnic origin, but prosecutors could invoke this law only if the victim was engaged in a “federally protected activity” like going to school or praying in church. No more, if the Senate agrees with the House. Suppose two fellows in a bar see a man come in and, later in the evening, beat him up. He turns out to be gay.

Armed with the Hate Crimes Prevention Act if it becomes law, local prosecutors will have an incentive to pile hate crime charges on top of simple assault and thereby garner federal funding that will be available under the statute. The suspects then face an “enhancement” — several more years behind bars — for committing a hate crime. Or they are acquitted, and the federal prosecutor promptly moves in. Double jeopardy will metastasize from its already swollen presence in the justice system. The gay lobby has gone into overdrive for just such a hate crime law ever since Matthew Shepard

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