New Bedford Anti-Gay Hate Crime

Media 02.10.06

Recipient: U.S. Senators

Dear Senator:

We write as a diverse coalition of civil rights, religious, professional, and civic organizations to urge you to assist our nation’s local law enforcement officials in confronting hate crimes by passing long overdue federal hate crimes legislation. A number of events during the last week have demonstrated the urgency for enacting more comprehensive federal hate crimes legislation.

A man viciously attacked patrons in a gay bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts with a hatchet and gun, shooting two men and leaving three people in serious condition. The suspect in this apparent hate crime went on to kill a police officer and another person. In addition, law enforcement authorities are currently investigating series of church burnings in Alabama, with hate as a potential motivation. These events are sobering reminders that hate violence continues to plague our nation.

Massachusetts has a regime of strong and inclusive hate crime laws – and the New Bedford Police Department has done an outstanding job responding to this crime. Federal hate crime legislation is needed, however, to address situations when state and local authorities lack the resources to effectively respond to the unique, sensitive and complex nature of hate violence. When Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998 simply because he was gay, federal resources were not available, and the cost of the investigation and prosecution forced the Laramie Police Department to furlough five employees.

According to media reports, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have assigned more than 50 federal agents to investigate the church fires in Alabama. They have this jurisdiction under the 1996 Church Arson Prevention Act because Congress recognized that local law enforcement agencies often lacked the resources to investigate and prosecute this type of crime.

Current federal hate crimes law allows the federal government to assist localities in the investigation and prosecution of hate violence based on race, religion, and national origin. However, because Matthew Shepard’s murder, like the New Bedford hate crime, was based on sexual orientation, the federal government lacked the jurisdiction to assist the local police and sheriffs. Hate violence based on sexual orientation consistently remains the third highest category of hate crimes behind race and religion, yet communities across the nation cannot access much-needed resources in combating these egregious crimes.

The Senate has previously approved updating federal hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation, disability, and gender by significant bipartisan majorities on three separate occasions. In September, the House passed the provisions of the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA) as an amendment to the Child Safety Act (H.R. 3132).

Public opinion polling consistently finds the overwhelming majority of Americans in support of such legislation, and federal hate crimes legislation has attracted the support of over 200 national law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations. We cannot wait for another series of senseless attacks before we give our nation’s local law enforcement officials the tools they need to confront hate violence.

We urge you to move speedily to enact federal hate crimes legislation.


The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Jewish Committee
American Psychological Association
Americans for Democratic Action
Anti-Defamation League
Asian American Justice Center
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Dignity USA
Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network
Human Rights Campaign
The Interfaith Alliance
Japanese American Citizens League
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
National Association for Multicultural Education
National Association of Social Workers
National Council of La Raza
National Disability Rights Network
North American Federation of Temple Youth
Organization of Chinese Americans
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
People for the American Way
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Women of Reform Judaism