President Obama, disability activists, commemorate 5th anniversary of hate crimes bill

Photo of a fist with the word HATE tattoed on it.
Celebration of Hate Crimes Bill

President Obama released a statement November 6 in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the first federal hate crimes bill to include crimes against people with disabilities, as well as crimes targeted at people’s sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.

“This law gave the Justice Department new tools for prosecuting criminals,” President Obama said in a statement. “It directed new resources to law enforcement agencies, so they could better serve their communities. And it did what we want all our laws to do: it reflected and strengthened our core national values.

“By recognizing violent bigotry as an especially dangerous crime – one that not only harms individuals, but threatens the social fabric that binds our country together – the Shepard Byrd Hate Crimes Act has made it possible for more Americans to live freely, openly and safely, and has reinforced our nation’s sacred commitment to equality for all.”

President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law on October 28, 2009.

Since then, the Department of Justice has charged 201 defendants with federal hate crimes or hate crimes-related charges, an increase of almost 50 percent from the previous five years, according to the White House blog. Overall, 44 people in 16 states have been convicted. It is unclear how many of those charges or convictions were for disability-related offenses.

Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who was gay, and James Byrd Jr., a 49-year-old African-American man living in Jasper, Texas, were both murdered.

“Until the passage of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, minimal protections existed for persons with disabilities who were victims of hate crimes,” the National Disability Rights Network said in a news release. “Every year the (Protection and Advocacy) System reviews numerous incidents involving the abuse, neglect and exploitation of persons with disabilities.”

Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of this DisAbility Galaxy website, is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.