Monday, October 26, 2009

Shepard/Byrd Act Passes Through Congress...FINALLY

Quietly on Thursday, the Senate passed the long-awaited Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It took a little slight of hand in the House, where the bill began, to do it as the leadership put the bill as a rider on the back of a defense appropriations bill, but it worked! The act extends protection of the 1969 United States hate crime law to, as Wikipedia puts it, include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

This new and improved act removed the prerequisites that the victim be going to school or voting. It also gives the federal government the ability to take up and investigate potential hate crimes that local communities decide to pass on. It provides federal funding for state and local governments to investigate hate crimes, and, importantly, it requires the FBI for the first time to track and keep data on hate crimes perpetrated against transgender individuals.

It's a landmark piece of legislation that so many have fought for, and it also stands to memorialize the two individuals that are in the name of the act, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.

In case you've forgotten, Shepard died on October 12, 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming. The prosecution in the case said that the murderers pretended to be gay in order to befriend Shepard lure him out of the bar and rob him. The graphic details of the crime are enough to make you sick. Shepard was beaten, tortured, and tied to a fence post where he suffered for 18 hours before being found. He was rushed to the hospital, but his skull was crushed. He suffered severe brain damage, and the damage was too great. After lingering for another five days, he died. Matthew Shepard was just 21.

James Byrd, Jr. was killed on June 7, 1998 in Jasper, Texas. The 49-year-old Byrd, an African-American, was murdered after he accepted a ride from three caucasian men: Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer, and John Russell King. Again, the crime is awful. Byrd wanted to go home, but the three young men...two in their early 20's and one in his early 30's...took Byrd behind a local convenience store. There, they beat him, stripped him naked, and chained him by his ankles to the back of their pickup truck. He was dragged for three miles. In the process, his right arm was severed, and he was decapitated. What was left of Byrd's body was dumped in the town's black cemetery. Brewer and King were known white supremacists.

In both cases, the perpetrators of the crimes were prosecuted and theoretically put away forever in each case. Brewer and King were sentenced to death. Berry, McKinney, and Anderson were all sentenced to varying degrees of life in prison. That shouldn't take out the the need for this new legislation.

So, as activists celebrate the passage of the Shepard/Byrd Act by Congress and wait for President Obama to sign the legislation, let us remember the two men whose names appear on the bill.

James Byrd, Jr., 1949-1998 and Matthew Shepard, 1976-1998

The vote totals: House 281-146 (Indiana: Yes: Carson, Donnelly, Ellsworth, Hill, Visclosky; No: Burton, Buyer, Pence, Souder) Senate 68-29 (Yes: Bayh and Lugar)

In all, five Senate Republicans, including Senator Richard Lugar voted for the bill. 131 of the 146 House Republicans including all of the R delegation in Indiana voted against the bill.


Anonymous said...

Does this mean that republicans like Burton, Pence and scandal ridden Buyer voted AGAINST funds for our military? Doesn't this indicate then that they are not supporting our men/women in battle? I think this should be made loud and clear.

Anonymous said...

Anon (8:57)

Are you an idiot? Of course these guys support our military. They just don't support the dark of the night tactic of pinning this legislation onto the back of a bill that has nothing to with hate crimes. Do you really think for one moment that your shallow argument and "If / Then" analysis game isn't recognized by everyone with half a brain.

Jon E. Easter said...

I think it's a legitimate question. They would rather vote against our troops than vote for something that is long overdue like hate crimes legislation. That shows you where our Republican delegation sans Mr. Lugar's priorities are...pushing forth a skewed, religious-based ideology.

Anonymous said...

Jon - I guess you're saying Democrats have never voted against a bill because of pork attached to it. I also guess you're implying that Democrats have been fervent supporters of our military efforts . Let's not fool ourselves here. I think we both know the record of Dems regarding our military. The Republicans voted against this bill based on principle. Yes, Christian Conservatives in this country are against equal or more than equal rights for trans-gender and homosexuals. That is not a secret. That does not mean they advocate violence against them. Just the opposite, they understand that this behavior is a sin against God, no greater, no less than any other sin, but still a sin.

Furthermore, the point made in your article is that the existing laws on the books are adequate to deal with crimes against these people and additional politically correct legislation is not required for the sake of appeasing these groups and winning these voters to your party.

Jon E. Easter said...

Anon (3:28)
I make no claims about D vs. R political strategy. All I know is that when the Democrats voted against funding the troops, many times it was related to opposition to the war and the continued prosecution of it. Democrats were cast as anti-country and not patriotic. If the Republicans take such extraordinary methods now (voting against funding troops) to avoid voting for a domestic piece of legislation that is so long overdue, then why can't they be questioned, too?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jon 100%.