Congress Takes on Hate Crimes
WASHINGTON — With hate crimes increasingly in the news at colleges and universities, Congressional Black Caucus members are stepping up their efforts to gain congressional approval of legislation with tougher penalties in hate crime incidents.
“As a nation, we can send a message that we will not tolerate a resurgence of the violent hate-filled atrocities of the past,” says Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, a Black Caucus member. “Every race adds value to our nation, every religion adds perspective and every native nationality adds diversity.”
Johnson and other Black Caucus members campaigned for approval of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would make it easier to prosecute cases and impose tougher penalties for offenders. Nearly 200 members of the House of Representatives have endorsed the bill, but it still is awaiting congressional approval.
Hate crimes involving college students have become increasingly visible during the past year following the murder of a gay University of Wyoming student last fall. Other recent incidents include one at Brown University in which three students are accused of assaulting a Black student and telling her, “You are just a quota.”
A legal defense fund representing Asian Americans also is asking for a federal probe of alleged hate crimes in the State University of New York system.
In calling for congressional action, Black Caucus members also have cited the case of James Byrd Jr., an African American who died in 1998 after being chained by his ankles to a truck and dragged more than three miles.
Overall, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported nearly 8,000 hate crimes in 1998, including more than half that were motivated by racial bias. This rate is higher than annual averages during the past 12 years. By comparison, national data showed an average of 5,000 hate crimes a year.
The renewed attention to hate crimes has led to at least one positive development for advocates: full Senate approval of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. On June 21, the Senate voted 57 to 42 for a law enforcement bill that included stronger hate crime penalties. Black Caucus members are calling on Republican leaders to schedule a House vote on the bill before the chamber adjourns for the year.
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