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Hate Crimes

Hate crimes target innocent victims simply because of the color of their skin, their religious views, their ethnic origin or the sex of the person they love. Such crimes foster anxiety and mistrust and bring fear to whole neighborhoods, communities and towns. The Texas Freedom Network proudly worked in 2001 for the successful passage of a strong state law that increased penalties for hate crimes.

The 2001 law passed three years after three white men brutally murdered James Byrd, Jr., an African American man in the Southeast Texas town of Jasper. At the time of Mr. Byrd’s murder, prosecutors had argued that the provisions of the existing Texas statute on hate crimes were so vague that they could not fully enforce it. Advocates proposed new legislation that included language to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Apprendi v. New Jersey standard, which required the finding of bias or prejudice beyond a reasonable doubt. This legislation also set out more specific guidelines on identifying and reporting hate crimes as well as prosecuting and punishing them.

A statewide poll demonstrated that more than 70% of Texans supported the legislation. Despite such overwhelming support, politics killed the measure during the 1999 session of the Texas Legislature. Efforts by the Texas Freedom Network, the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, the NAACP, ACLU of Texas and other civil rights and community organizations finally succeeded in winning passage of a new, strong law on hate crimes in 2001. The new law protects all Texans. Crimes committed because of bias against people of any race, color, religion, national original, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation are covered.

More Resources 

Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been a key player in the debates over hate crimes. The Center has filed lawsuits against white supremacist groups and organizations known to promote hate crimes. The SPLC tracks active hate groups and hate activity, provides legislative and court background, history and other research, and guides lawyers and activists to fight hate in the courtroom. Issues: first amendment, the lawyers role, hate crime statutes, activism.

American Civil Liberties Union
As a historical defender of individual civil liberties, the ACLU has been careful about its response to hate crimes legislation and statutes. Issues: hate speech and crimes, First Amendment concerns, penalties for motivation, Supreme Court decisions.

Anti-Defamation League
The Anti-Defamation League is an organization that describes itself as dedicated to "efforts to deter and counteract hate-motivated criminal activity." To these ends, the ADL promotes the creation of hate-crime statutes based on its belief that "this unique type of crime could cause an isolated incident to explode into widespread community tension." The ADL has published comprehensive guides to hate-crimes legislation. Issues: constitutional challenges, extremist speech, ADL model legislation, legislative and court background, gender inclusion, education, activism.

U.S. Department of Justice/Bureau of Justice Assistance
The Bureau of Justice Assistance’s publication, A Policymaker’s Guide to Hate Crimes is a comprehensive look at the problem of hate crimes in the U.S. and responses-government and organizational-to the problem. The guide seems to be an unbiased compilation of literature, interviews with experts, and congressional testimony. The BJA report outlines definitions and issues, identifies key players and puts forth the many sides of the debates over hate crimes legislation. Issues: origins and definition of hate crimes, legal history, responses to hate crimes by local, state and federal government and organization, Supreme Court, resources.

Human Rights Campaign
The Human Rights Campaign focuses on hate crimes more specifically as they pertain to sexual orientation across the country. HRC supports passage of the federal Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, which would give local law enforcement officials the resources they need to combat hate crimes based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender or disability. Issues: specific incidents of hate crimes, federal government’s response, anti-gay discrimination, marriage equality, recent legislation, activism.

Equality Texas
Equality Texas works toward the elimination of social, legal, and economic discrimination based on sexual orientation through lobbying, education, and research directed toward the Texas Legislature and other state governmental agencies. Issues: Hate crimes based on sexual orientation, marriage equality, employment nondiscrimination, activism.

People for the American Way
People for the American Way is an activist organization focusing on the protection of constitutional freedoms and equal rights. The organization is a strong supporter of the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Issues: activism, talking points, First Amendment, Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Hate Crimes Research Network
The Hate Crimes Research Network is designed to link academic research that is being done on the topic of bias-motivated crime. Based at the Department of Sociology of Portland State University in Oregon, the HCRN links work done by sociologists, criminologists, psychologists and other academics, including graduate students. The goal is to create a common pool of research and data to understand the phenomenon of hate crimes. Issues: resources. 

Political Research Associates
Political Research Associates is an independent, not-for-profit research center aimed at providing information focusing on the issues and activities of the U.S. political right. The site’s brief material provides bullet points and research sources that address both the definition of hate crimes and the law as a response to these crimes. Issues: measuring hate crime, hate crimes and the law.