Leading civil rights groups Monday denounced the rise in hate crimes taking place in the United States, especially against Hispanics, and called for passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act (LLEHCP) to ensure federal jurisdiction when local officials fail to act.
Hate crimes against Hispanics have risen steadily for the last four years, and crimes against African-American, Asian-American and Jewish people, as well as gays and lesbians, all increased last year, according to FBI statistics gathered for the Uniform Crime Reporting Programme.
“The wave of hate that is seeping through our communities threatens the fabric of our nation and is costing lives. Americans will not be cowed by those trying to advance intolerance—we must stand up to the presence of hate groups and extremists in our communities and speak with one voice to say we will not be dehumanised,” argued Janet Murguía, director of the National Council of La Raza, the oldest and largest Hispanic American civil rights organisation.
Murghía was joined by representatives of African-American, Asian-American and Jewish groups concerned about the rise in hate crimes, especially in the context of the election of Barack Obama as president and the deteriorating economic situation.
At present, local officials have wide latitude in defining what constitutes a hate crime, and depending on the local environment, may ignore many crimes meant to be covered under existing legislation.
The bill passed last year in the House but was dropped during negotiations in the Senate. Civil rights leaders are “optimistic” that the LLEHCP Act will be taken on early by the incoming Congress and administration, according to Henderson.
Need for new legislation, the panelists agreed, stems in part from the fact that local officials may be the very figures encouraging hate crimes; for example, speaking out against those perceived as taking jobs or using or abusing services -a major argument in the ongoing debate over immigration.
Media hate-mongers such as Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and CNN’s Lou Dobbs, and a rise in Internet-based sites promoting hate, also play a key role in spurring individuals to commit racially or ethnically motivated crimes, according to the speakers.