Friday, September 28, 2007

Hate crimes bill passed by Senate

A hate crime bill that expands protection hate crimes based on disability, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity passed in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated:

"“The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act would strengthen the ability of federal, state, and local governments to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. This amendment would remove the current limitation on federal jurisdiction that allows federal involvement only in cases in which the assailant intended to prevent a victim from engaged in a ‘federally protected activity,’ such as voting. This amendment would expand the groups protected under current law to include all hate crimes – including those based on disability, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. And this amendment would provide the Department of Justice the authority to assist state and local jurisdictions in prosecuting violent hate crimes, or to take the lead in such prosecutions where local authorities are unwilling or unable to act. "

The bill is the first major expansion of a hate crimes law since 1968 after a decade long struggle. It would cut down on hate crimes behind attacks that are sometimes fatal upon vulnerable populations. In the case of the disabled population, for example:

"On Tuesday, May 29, at around 8:45 p.m., James McKinney, 41, of Los Angeles, was walking to a store from a board and care facility for the mentally disabled, where he lived. As he neared the corner of Wilton Place and Olympic Boulevard, a male attacker approached him from behind and struck the back of his head with an aluminum baseball bat, the video showed."

"A 21-year-old maintenance worker developmentally disabled was followed into the men's bathroom at the Shirley Lanes bowling alley and sodomized.
Investigators say the Sunday night attack was the work of 19-year-old Steven Rodriguez and 17-year-old Michael Lunsford.
Police say one man held down the victim in the bathroom, while the other sexually assaulted him with a plumber's tool, a snake used to clear drains.
The victim was found on the floor, bleeding with severe internal injuries."
-via [Long Island]

"Deputy Prosecutor Derrick Julkes said the 29-year-old victim, who is mentally disabled, has continued to suffer, as has his family. Prior to the beating, the victim was able to perform odd jobs, but he can't now, Julkes said.

Ward and co-defendant Pierre Lamar Springer, 19, of Gary, followed the victim from a home where they all had attended a party. In the street, the two men punched the man in the face, knocking him to the ground, and kicked, stomped and hit him in the face, chest and legs. They also removed the man's clothes, beat him with his own belt and left him naked, court records state.

The man was airlifted to Chicago with extensive brain damage. As a result of the attack, the man cannot used one arm, court records state."

Statistics show that:

-women with disabilities, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or class, are assaulted, raped, and abused at a rate two times greater than women without a disability (Sobsey 1994; Cusitar 1994).
-The risk of being physically or sexually assaulted for adults with developmental disabilities is four to ten times higher than it is for other adults (Ibid.).

Hate crimes against the disabled are notoriously under-reported for various reasons. Often police categorize them as cases of assault and don't address the hate crime. Or these crimes may be referred to as abuse.

A case from Anaheim California, where day care workers slapped two developmentally disabled men in the restroom for no reason was, for example, seen as a reason to develop a policy requiring protection of employees by requiring that two workers accompany residents. Sadly, the legal concerns involved are often addressed - from the point of view of the caretakers rather than the disabled.

This approach has failed to deter growing concerns of abuse from caretakers since underlying crimes often carry minimal penalties and screening people for such jobs may fall by the wayside by employers who need workers. Sadly sometimes this abuse is violent. Prosecuting violent crimes as hate crimes would be a further deterrent to offenses against the most vulnerable among the disabled population - institutionalized people.

1 comment:

hotwheelz said...

I've read about disabled homeless people being assaulted too. Stronger laws have been needed for a while.