Part of the reason I started the Hate Crimes on Wikipedia Project was to make information about the kind of hate crimes that have been committed against LGBT people more widely available, because that I think the facts are the most powerful resource we have in terms of making it clear what the hate crimes bill is really about.
I’m a couple of days late on this one, but I while catching up with my blog reading, I came across a story that underscores another aspect of the hate crimes bill. Jim Burroway posted the full text of the bill at Box Turtle Bulletin a while back. He also challenged the opposition to post the text of the bill on their sites, and point out where it threatens their religious beliefs or religious speech. To date, none of them have taken up that challenge that I know of, but I’ll refer to his post to show how the hate crimes bill might come into play, when police fail to investigate or report a hate crime.
It started off a typical night out for Michael Wrenn, 47-years-old, and his friend Aaron Hudy, 32-years-old. However, the evening went terribly wrong while they were walking home from the Belltown neighborhood just before midnight on Saturday, August 4. Wrenn recounted to Seattle Gay News this week that he was brutally attacked because he is Gay.
As the pair passed a group of five or six guys standing along the street in the 2200 block of First Avenue, one of the men offered Hudy $20 to tell another man in his group, who was peeing, that he had a “red-fox penis.” Hudy declined and the pair kept walking. Then, the man who was peeing approached the two and, using derogatory remarks, asked if the men were Gay.
“He stopped peeing, came over to us and said, ‘What are you guys, fags?’ … He pushed me and I kind of moved over to the right. Mike was smaller than me so he was probably [seen as] an easier target,” explains Hudy. “Mike was like ‘Yeah, I’m Gay. What’s your problem.’ He pushed my friend down to the ground and just started attacking him with punches. As soon as my friend said, ‘Yeah, I’m Gay,’ the guy started attacking him.”
… What happened next, they say, has shaken their faith in the professionalism of certain officers within the Seattle Police Department. “He (the on-scene cop) was sitting in his car asking us questions. He seemed to be acting as though he was inconvenienced, like ‘Whatever, it is just another little attack or something.’ Like, ‘go away,’ that sort of thing,” says Hudy.
Both men say they repeatedly told officers that they believed the incident to be a hate crime, motivated by Wrenn’s sexual orientation. “When the officer interviewed me near his car, I made it clear that the only reason that the guy came after me was for being Gay,” says Wrenn. “That is the only reason he came after me. There was no other subject matter involved. … Later on in the interview, the officer said to me that being Gay “is your issue.”
The same officer who spoke with Wrenn and Hudy, later wrote a police report, which makes no mention of the attackers anti-Gay derogatory remarks or his bias-based motive. The incident was classified as simple assault and the “bias crime” box was unchecked. Wrenn said he was “shocked” after reading a copy of the offical police report provided by the SGN.
“I had blood all over me. I was in shock. I didn’t have time to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s, but I made it very clear that it was a hate crime,” he said. “I am shocked. Just, literally, shocked. There is no mention, not even one little use of the word “Gay” in the police report. With so many officers involved in taking down information, it is absolutely shocking.”
One of the provisions in the hate crimes bill, which merely amends the existing statute, empowers federal authorities to investigate when local law enforcement either cannot or will not investigate a hate crime.
Investigating hate crime is the number one priority of our Civil Rights Program. Why? Not only because hate crime has a devastating impact on families and communities, but also because groups that preach hatred and intolerance plant the seeds of terrorism here in our country.
Defining a Hate Crime
A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.
A hate crime is not a distinct federal offense. However, the federal government can and does investigate and prosecute crimes of bias as civil rights violations, which do fall under its jurisdiction. These efforts serve as a backstop for state and local authorities, which handle the vast majority of hate crime cases. A 1994 federal law also increased penalties for offenses proven to be hate crimes.
Limitations in federal statutes prevent the FBI from investigating crimes of bias motivated solely by gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Disability issues may be investigated in housing cases that fall under Title 42, U.S.C., Section 3631.
That’s from the FBI website. And, yes, you read it right. limitations in federal law prevent the FBI from investigating hate crimes based solely on gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
Let me try to explain it using three different scenarios.
- First Scenario – Suppose someone were to attack me while hurling racial epithets like “nigger” and “black sonofabitch.” Let’s say for the sake of argument they didn’t kill me, but left me pretty banged up. Naturally, I call the police. But for some reason, local and state officials refuse to treat it as a hate crime. Worse, they refuse to investigate at all, or even attempt to bring my attackers to justice. Thanks to current federal law, the FBI could get involved, investigate the matter as a violation of civil rights, and possibly provide some justice. Because the attack was based on my race.
- Second Scenario – Suppose someone were to attack me while hurling racial epithets like “nigger faggot” and “black sonofabitch queer.” Let’s say for the sake of argument they didn’t kill me, but left me pretty banged up. Naturally, I call the police. But for some reason, local and state officials refuse to treat it as a hate crime. Worse, they refuse to investigate at all, or even attempt to bring my attackers to justice. Thanks to current federal law, the FBI could still get involved, investigate the matter as a violation of civil rights, and possibly provide some justice. Because, while the attack was based in part on my sexual orientation, it was also based on my race.
- Third Scenario – Now let me put it yet another way. Suppose someone were to attack me while hurling racial epithets like “faggot” and “sonofabitch queer.” Let’s say for the sake of argument they didn’t kill me, but left me pretty banged up. Naturally, I call the police. But for some reason, local and state officials refuse to treat it as a hate crime. Worse, they refuse to investigate at all, or even attempt to bring my attackers to justice. Thanks to current federal law, the FBI could not get involved, investigate the matter as a violation of civil rights, and possibly provide some justice. Because the attack was based solely on my sexual orientation.
That’s what the hate crimes bill is attempting to rectify. I have yet to hear anyone make a convincing case for why, under the third scenario, federal authorities should not step in if local or state law enforcement doesn’t step-up. Essentially, the opposition sounds like it’s saying that attacking someone because they’re female, transgender, is not a violation of their civil rights.
If you can’t imagine any time when law enforcement would look the other way, crack open a history book. Or continue reading the page linked above.
The FBI investigated what are now called hate crimes as far back as the 1920s. Our role increased following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Before then, the federal government took the position that protection of civil rights was a local function, not a federal one. However, the murders of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, near Philadelphia, Mississippi, in June 1964 provided the impetus for a visible and sustained federal effort to protect and foster civil rights for African Americans. MIBURN, as the case was called (it stood for Mississippi Burning), became the largest federal investigation ever conducted in Mississippi. On October 20, 1967, seven men were convicted of conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of the slain civil rights workers. All seven were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to ten years.
Reading that, I think that the opposition is basically saying of LGBT hate crime victims what Mississippi authorities were saying in 1964. Civil rights violation? You can’t violate what somebody doens’t have in the first place.