Catching up on legislative action: two weeks ago Congress passed the "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act". Last Wednesday President Obama signed it into law.
The law expands the 1969 federal hate-crime law to include a victim's real or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. This is big:
- No longer must the victim be engaged in a federally--protected activity like voting. Texas has no hate-crimes statute when James Byrd was lynched; a similar crime now would bring additional penalties.
- The law gives the feds power to prosecute hate crimes when local authorities won't. Also, it helps state and county agencies cover the costs of high-profile investigations and trials. (The trial of Matthew Shepard's killers financially drained a Wyoming county.)
- It requires the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people. We don't actually know many transgender folk are attacked and murdered every year, because the feds haven't counted.
Hate crimes should be punished more severely because such crimes target not only the direct victim, but an entire minority community. A brick through the window of a synagogue is worse than a brick through the window of a 7/11. A lynching is worse than a murder. Therefore, the people who perpetrate hate crimes should face tougher sentences.