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Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

In this segment on CNN Live from October 28, 2009, President Obama explains his decision to sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, which expanded existing legislation to include assault on the grounds of sexual orientation. Matthew Shepard was a gay student who was tortured and killed by two men near Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. James Byrd, Jr. was a black man who was tied to a truck by two white supremacists, dragged behind it and decapitated in Jasper, Texas in 1998. In his speech, Obama remarks that it has taken a decade for the law to be passed, and he thanks everyone who has fought for it. Obama cites FBI statistics that say there were 7,600 hate crimes in 2008 and 12,000 in the last ten years based on sexual orientation alone. He announces that the new bill strengthens protections against crimes based on race, religion, and national origin and adds federal protections for crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation. He invokes the founding ideals of freedom and equality, and he hearkens back to the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which Lyndon B. Johnson signed following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

discussion

What is a “hate crime”? Who is targeted by hate crimes? And what distinguishes them from other violent crimes?

Which protections does this law strengthen, and which protections does it add? For whom?

Obama mentions America’s founding ideals of freedom and equality. How does this legislation relate to these ideals?

Why do you think this bill took ten years to pass? More than a decade after this bill was passed, what has changed in terms of hate crimes and civil rights in the U.S. and globally?