U.S. Representative Jared Polis

Floor Speeches

Floor Speech in Support of H.R. 1913, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act

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Washington, April 29, 2009 | comments
Aril 29, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of this Rule for H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Last July, a young transgender Latina, Angie Zapata, living in Greeley, Colorado, was brutally attacked and murdered. Her killer, who became outraged after he discovered that she was transgender and beat her to death, told authorities that he had “killed it.” Just last week, Angie’s killer was convicted not only of first-degree murder but also a hate crime in the beating death of Angie. It was the first time in the nation that a state hate crime statute resulted in a conviction of a transgender person’s murder, and as a result, Angie’s killer will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Thanks in large part to Colorado’s hate crimes law, which includes gender identity as a protected class, justice was served in this case. But sadly, this has rarely been the case. Just a few years earlier, Fred C. Martinez, Jr., an openly gay, Navajo, transgender youth, was murdered while walking home from a party in Cortez, Colorado. The perpetrator, who along with an accomplice had met Fred at a carnival that night, attacked and beat him to death with a large rock. Later, he had bragged to his friends that he “had beat up a fag.” In contrast to Angie Zapata, Fred’s killer was not charged with a hate crime because no Colorado or Federal law protecting gender identity existed at that time. He received a 40-year sentence under a plea agreement, but will be eligible for parole in 25 years. If he had been charged with a Federal hate crime, he could have received a life sentence without parole.

Sadly, Angie and Fred are not alone. Since 1991 over 100,000 hate crime offenses have been reported to the FBI, with 7,722 reported in 2006, the FBI’s most recent reporting period. And although much is talked about violent attacks against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, this is not just an LGBT issue. Violent crimes based on race-related bias, religion, ethnicity/national origin are all reported each year.

What makes these crimes so odious is that they are not just crimes against an individual; they are crimes against entire communities and the values and ideals upon which our country was founded. With each attack, these criminals are attempting to send a message of intimidation to the victim's entire community: a message that certain Americans do not belong, and deserve to be victimized solely because of who they are.

The Hate Crime bill, which we are voting on today, is sending its own message that these crimes will no longer be tolerated. I strongly support efforts to punish hate crimes, and I am a proud cosponsor of this bill, which will expand the federal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute hate crimes and provide law enforcement with another vehicle to ensure that all Americans' rights are protected.

This is especially important for police departments in smaller towns that may not have the resources to deal with such crimes. For example, the cost of the investigation and prosecution of Matthew Shepard's killers dealt a severe blow to the Laramie, Wyoming's law enforcement budget. As a result, the Sheriff's office had to furlough five officers, undermining the public safety of the entire community.

The Hate Crimes bill also corrects two major deficiencies in current law – one, the excessive restrictions requiring proof that victims were attacked because they were engaged in certain “federally protected activities,” and, two, the limited scope of the law, which covers only hate crimes based on race, religion, or ethnic background, excluding violence committed against persons because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

It is important to note that this legislation will not take away rights from anyone.  Our country was founded upon certain inalienable rights, including the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. This bill does not interfere with either of those principles. Instead, it ensures that that all victims of bias crimes are equally protected.

It is time to pass this law. We must no longer turn a blind eye to hate crimes of any kind. Everyone, regardless of race, creed, color, and yes, sexual orientation and gender identity, must stand equal in the eyes of the law.
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