Record number of hate crimes against Latinos and gays

While the number of hate crimes tallied by the FBI dropped in 2007 – the most recent year for which data are available – violence against Latinos and gay people bucked the trend.

  • Hate crimes targeting Latinos rose 40% from 2003 to 2007.
  • Hate crimes targeting individuals because of their sexual orientation rose in 2007 to 1,265, the highest level in five years.
  • The number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people killed in bias-motivated incidents increased by 20% in 2008, compared with 2007. In fact, last year’s 29 killings were the highest number since 1999.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund faults anti-immigrant rhetoric in the media and mobilization of extremist groups who are now using social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to spread their message.

Anti-violence experts cite debates about same-sex marriage as a possible flash point for the increase in crimes against individuals based on their sexuality.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called for Congress to act, noting recent incidents of “bias-motivated violence,” saying that new hate-crimes laws are needed to stop “violence masquerading as political activism.”

Holder was referring to three attacks that occurred over a two-week period:

  • On May 31, Dr. George Tiller, one of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions despite decades of protests and attacks, was shot and killed Sunday in a church where he was serving as an usher.
  • On June 1, two enlisted soldiers standing outside a U.S. Army Navy Career Center in Little Rock, AK were hit when a suspect drove up in a black SUV and began shooting. A 23-year-old soldier later died. The alleged shooter led police on a brief pursuit before being taken into custody. He has been identified as Mujahid Muhammad, 23, and likely carried "political and religious motives." Scott Roeder, who is being held without bail for the murder, has a long history of antiabortion philosophy and protest.
  • On June 10, gunshots rang out at the entrance of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, leaving a private security guard dead and the shooting suspect wounded. The suspect, James W. von Brunn, 88, was known as a white supremacist for his racist and anti-Semitic writings.

Holder said Congress should update hate-crimes laws so law enforcement could more effectively prosecute those who commit violent attacks based on gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

Hate crimes are only named as such when victims are targeted specifically because of their race, color, religion or national origin. Conviction for hate crimes carry harsher sentences because the victimization goes beyond the individual targeted.

There is currently no hate crime legislation for crimes committed on individuals because of their sexuality. The Matthew Shepard Act, which was vetoed by then President George Bush in 2007, would add sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the list of federally-protected classes.

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