The House this week passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, legislation extending federal hate crimes law to protect individuals targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.
This bill is a long time in coming. Since the federal government began collecting data in 1991, over 100,000 hate crimes have been reported by state and local officials. Most analysts believe the data significantly underreports the actual number of hate crimes. Approximately 16% of hate crimes were perpetrated because of a person’s sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is the third most common target of hate-based violence, trailing only race and religion.
In addition to expanding the categories of hate crimes, the bill would allow the Justice Department to aid in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes at the local level, providing technical assistance and funding. The cost of investigating and prosecuting these high-profile cases can be prohibitive for many local law enforcement agencies. With budgets stretched thin, it is essential for the federal government to provide assistance to ensure that justice is served.
Finally, this bill would require the Justice Department to expand its tracking of hate crimes to include crimes based on gender or gender identity. The federal government currently collects data on hate crimes committed due to sexual orientation and disability, but not for gender or gender identity. This expanded resource will provide law enforcement officials the information needed to more accurately gauge the prevalence of hate crimes and to evaluate efforts to combat this violence.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act is an overdue step towards addressing all forms of hate-based violence that can traumatize individuals, families and entire communities. Hate crimes have a chilling effect beyond a particular victim, spreading fear of future attacks among the targeted group. Congress cannot prevent hate from motivating individuals to commit violence, but we can ensure that the proper laws and resources are available to prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law. That is what this bill does, and that’s why I support it.