Last week I visited the U.S. Federal Courthouse here in Fresno to attend a Central Valley Hate Crimes Task Force. The meeting was put together by the U.S. Department of Justice and moderated by Elana S. Landau, Assistant United States Attorney. The session was attended by various members of law enforcement, as well as representatives from the FBI and other Central Valley Justice personnel. Also in attendance were various representatives of local community groups, including those representing the LGBT community, Muslim community, African American community, and the Sikh community. There was also a representative from the Clovis United School District.
The purpose of this and future meetings is to empower Hate Crimes Legislation. The Department of Justice is reaching out to various community groups in order to facilitate reporting, as well as to assist prosecuting hate crimes and to facilitate law enforcement sensitivity training.
One thing everyone agreed on in the room is that hate crimes are, indeed, happening in the Central Valley. Another certainty, however, is that hate crimes in Fresno and the Central Valley go virtually unreported. For the last reported time period, the reports showed 1 hate crime reported in the Fresno area. Understanding that requires knowledge particular to individual groups.
Those who represented the Muslim and Sikh communities offered the fact that hate crimes against those populations are often reported to their own state and national organizations, yet not necessarily or immediately to local law enforcement officials. It wasn't, apparently, a disservice to legal authority, but rather a natural result of group organizations and directives already in place. I explained to the group that I'd received calls at the Fresno LGBT Community Center reporting incidents which might qualify as hate crimes but which I referred to local agencies such as the ACLU or GSA. It appears hate crimes within communities are often reported somewhat internally. Although each group may feel empowered by doing so, the result may be detrimental to the power of state and national law enforcement in dealing with such problems.
It's fairly simple from an organizational framework...if the numbers of hate crimes don't manifest in U.S. Dept Of Justice reports, then our empowerment, as it relates to government and law enforcement intervention, is at risk of not being as effective as it could be.
We in the LGBT Community hear about hate crimes all the time on a national and global level. Typically we read that a violent attack is accompanied by specific LGBT slurs. It's usually that the criminals or perpetrators are yelling such things as "faggot" which accompanies a violent beating. As we have continually heard, I assumed, probably as many others have, that those slurs in and of themselves define a particular crime of violence as a hate crime. Not so. It turns out that while slurs during a crime are indeed the catalyst for a hate crime charge, further investigation has to be conducted in order to justifiably label it as one. Investigators take the fact that slurs were used against a victim, and in turn investigate their history. They may search their homes, question family, friends and acquaintances, etc. A foundation of prejudice must be established in order to prosecute a crime as a hate crime.
In other words, lots of things may be uttered by a perpetrator during a violent attack, but in order to qualify as a hate crime, a pattern outside the crime itself must be established. This came as news to me, and during a deeper discussion, we were told how critical it then becomes to report such slurs. Even if in one particular case, a hate crime may not end up being the outcome, officials keep complaints on file and they prove very beneficial in establishing a pattern later on. The importance of reporting may come into play two or three offenses later, when a violent criminal may then have a history on their legal record which shows a propensity toward a particular prejudice.
What's most important is that we report hate crimes. The Fresno LGBT Center now has brochures from the United States Attorney's Office Eastern District of California, which outline how to report hate crimes. That information is available to everyone by visiting the Community Center during open hours or calling us at 559-325-4429 and leaving us a message so that we can get that information to you.
There's a built in sentiment in the LGBT Community that law officials are not open to supporting us on these issues, and during the meeting, it became apparent that our community is not the only one that feels this way. Part of the current efforts by the U.S. Dept of Justice is to train law officials on how to better handle these incidents. In the meantime, we cannot allow a potential insensitivity on the part of some law officials to keep us from reporting offenses. I can tell you that I, as a member of the LGBT Community, felt completely supported by the officials at that meeting. An FBI officer even made a point of coming up to me afterwards, introduced himself and assured me that they are dedicated to working on these problems. He also urged me to encourage open communication and reporting between his office and the LGBT Community.
TO REPORT A HATE CRIME in Fresno:
FBI Robert B. Schofield 559-436-4474
TO CONTACT THE HATE CRIMES TASK FORCE in Fresno:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elana Landau 559-497-4083
United States Attorney's Office Eastern District of California http://www.justice.gov/usao/cae/
STOP BULLYING - GOVERNMENT SITE
The Matthew Shepard James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into federal law by President Barack Obama in October of 2009.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, is an American Act of Congress, passed on October 22, 2009, and signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009, as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 (H.R. 2647). Conceived as a response to the murders of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., the measure expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability
The bill also:
- removes the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally-protected activity, like voting or going to school;
- gives federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue;
- provides $5 million per year in funding for fiscal years 2010 through 2012 to help state and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes;
- requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to track statistics on hate crimes based on gender and gender identity (statistics for the other groups were already tracked).
The Act is the first federal law to extend legal protections to transgender persons