The following is an excerpt from Kathi Wolfe's editorial on President Obama's recent signing into law of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Read the full article here.
In 1999, Eric Krochmaluk, a man with intellectual disabilities from Middletown, N.J., was kidnapped, choked, burned with cigarettes and abandoned in a forest.
Some people worry that the recently signed hate crimes law will inhibit free speech by making it possible to prosecute an individual on the basis of his or her beliefs or speech. Yet, the legislation has provisions that ensure that prosecution would be based only on violent acts based on bias.
Disabled or gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people don't want to hinder freedom of speech. We just don't want to become the victims of hate crimes.
No one will be prosecuted simply for exercising the freedom of speech. And that is how it should be, even if that speech is ugly and bigoted.
But once someone commits a violent crime against us because of who we are, that person's bigoted intentions ought to be penalized. Judges and juries, at sentencing, often take into consideration the frame of mind of the criminal. They should do so with these crimes, too. The community has a right to say that bigoted violence is especially corrosive.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act won't end bias-based crimes. But it will put everyone on notice that such crimes will not be tolerated.
And for those of us who are vulnerable, it makes us a little less fearful today than we were yesterday.
That's something that all Americans should celebrate.
Kathi Wolfe is a poet and writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.