Disability One Step Closer To Getting Hate Crimes Protections
Crimes committed against a person based on their disability would receive federal hate crimes protections under a measure passed by the Senate late Thursday.
In a long-sought move, this new hate crimes bill expands upon the original 1968 hate crimes law to include protections for crimes committed based on disability, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Such a measure has already passed through the House of Representatives and has the support of President Barack Obama.
“This bill simply recognizes that there is a difference between assaulting someone to steal his money, or doing so because he is gay, or disabled, or Latino or Muslim,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
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The already existing hate crimes law only covered crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin. Once the new bill is signed into law, federal investigators will be able to assist local law enforcement to investigate crimes where discrimination against a person because of disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity is suspected.
The new bill also provides funding to cover the cost of such investigations and grants for programs to help prevent such crimes.
Opponents of the hate crimes bill expansion questioned the necessity of it.
“Victims are traumatized enough from a crime to then be subjected to questions about their ‘race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability’ in order to pursue a crime,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “An expansion of the federal criminal code is not necessary to cover a class of protected citizens from hate crimes because all Americans regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion or any belief are already protected under existing state and federal criminal statutes.”
Critics also said they worried that the measure could curtail the right to free speech. But, the measure’s supporters insist that is not the case because physical harm would have to be inflicted in order for a person to be prosecuted under the new law.
Almost 8,000 hate crimes were reported in 2007 — the most recent year statistics are available — according to the FBI. Of those, about 1 percent were related to disability.