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Families of Murdered Men Blast George W. Bush, Jr.

GOP Presidential Hopeful says 'No' to Hate Crime Laws

Matthew Shepard's & James Byrd's Relatives say 'Yes'

Compiled By GayToday

gwbushhate.gif - 10.55 K Gov. Bush Washington, D.C.--On the same day that Texas Gov. George W. Bush said he opposed including sexual orientation in a state hate-crimes law, family members of two hate crimes victims announced their active support for federal and state hate crimes legislation at a press conference.

The backing of Judy Shepard, mother of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, and Darrell Verrett, nephew of Jasper, Texas resident James Byrd Jr., reinvigorates the call for passing state hate crimes legislation and for passing the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

"No one will ever know if these laws would have saved Mr. Byrd's life, or even my son's life. But we can begin today by building a safer world for all Americans," said Judy Shepard at the press conference. "If just one is stopped. If just one potential perpetrator gets the message of this legislation and there is one less victim, then it will be worthwhile."

"There is no greater threat to our liberty and national unity," said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch at the press conference. "As a nation, we must look in the mirror long and hard and ask ourselves what is the right course of action. Will the memories of James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard fade into history, or will we rise to the challenge and stand against the escalating wave of hate that is infecting the soul of our nation?"

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Just as support and momentum for passing hate crimes legislation is growing, Gov. Bush announced that he is opposed to clarifying Texas' hate crimes law by explicitly adding sexual orientation. "We are appalled at the position of Governor George W. Bush," said Birch.

"Apparently being a compassionate conservative does not include protecting the victims of hate crimes or their families. His position is shortsighted and lacks the spirit of moderate leadership he espouses. We think he should reconsider."

sthompson.jpg - 8.20 K State Rep. Senfronia Thompson Shepard and Varrett were joined at the National Press Club by Elizabeth Birch, HRC executive director; Wade Henderson, executive director, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Dianne Hardy Garcia, executive director, Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Texas, Chair, Judicial Affairs Committee.

Simultaneously, in Illinois, Hate Crime legislation has failed to pass in spite of the support of Gov. George Ryan and five other constitutional officers. The Illinois House voted Monday 57-59 against a bill introduced by state Rep. Larry McKeon, D-Chicago, which would have added sexual orientation to protections given to members of other discriminated-against groups.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group in Congress reintroduced the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill that would add sexual orientation, gender and disability to existing hate crimes statutes. Only 21 states have hate crimes laws that include sexual orientation and eight states have no hate crimes laws.

Under current law, a hate crime can be federally prosecuted only if it takes place on federal property or because the victim is exercising a federally protected right, such as voting or attending school. These limitations can tie the hands of those investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act would help alleviate these limitations by allowing federal involvement when necessary and by helping forge a strong and lasting partnership between state and federal law enforcement officials in fighting hate crimes.

While state and local authorities have and will continue to play the primary role in the investigation and prosecution of hate violence, federal jurisdiction would provide an important backstop to ensure that justice is achieved in every case.

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act limits the federal government's jurisdiction to only the most serious violent crimes directed at persons, not property crimes. This bill would allow states with inadequate resources to take advantage of Department of Justice resources and personnel in limited cases that have been authorized by the Attorney General.

Last year, two tragic hate crimes shook the nation. The brutal killings of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. focused the nation's attention on the growing problem of hate violence against minorities. Shepard was allegedly killed by two men in part because he was gay. Byrd, an African-American, was dragged to death behind a truck by white supremacists.

More recently, Billy Jack Gaither was murdered in Alabama by two men who said they killed him because he was gay. Since 1981, hate crimes have nearly doubled. In 1997-- the FBI's most recent reporting period -- race-related hate crimes were by far the most common, representing nearly 60 percent of all cases. Hate crimes based on religion represented 15 percent of all cases. And hate crimes against gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans increased by 8 percent -- or about 14 percent of all hate crimes reported.

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act has broad bipartisan backing and support from notable law enforcement agencies and state and local leaders, including 22 state attorney generals, the National Sheriff's Association, the Police Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

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