President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd hate crime bill into legislation on Wednesday. While many states already have hate crime laws, this bill will also protect people based on sexual orientation, a victory in the eyes of many homosexuals.
Expanding federal hate crimes to include those victimized because of gender, sexual orientation, and disability, the law also takes away many restrictions of when federal law enforcement can intervene and prosecute crimes.
“No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are, or because they live with a disability.”
The families of James Byrd and Matthew Shepard were also with Obama when he signed the bill. Byrd was lynched in 1998 in Jasper Texas by three white men: Shawn Allen Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer and John William King.
The three men beat Byrd behind a convenience store, stripped him naked, chained him by the ankles to their pickup truck, and dragged him for three miles. Brewer later claimed that Byrd's throat had been slashed before he was dragged. However, forensic evidence suggests that Byrd had been attempting to keep his head up while being dragged, and an autopsy suggested that Byrd was alive during much of the dragging.
Byrd died after his right arm and head were severed after his body hit a culvert. His body had caught a sewage drain on the side of the road, resulting in Byrd's decapitation.
Berry, Brewer, and King dumped their victim's mutilated remains in the town's black cemetery. Byrd's limbs were found scattered across a seldom-used road. The police found 75 places that were littered with Byrd's remains. State law enforcement officials, along with Jasper's District Attorney, determined that since Brewer and King were well-known white supremacists, the murder was a hate crime. They decided to call upon the FBI less than 24 hours after the discovery of Byrd's remains.
Shepard was a gay college student who was also murdered also in 1998 and tied to a fence.
For years, former President Bush blocked the bill. Go figure.
“We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits; not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear.”