DOJ marks the 5th Anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Boyd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

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(WIAT) The United States Attorney’s Office in partnership with the United States Department of Justice. the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Napa Valley Criminal Justice Training Center, the Central California Intelligence Center, and the Sacramento State Pride Center participated in events commemorating the 5th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

WATCH: Hate Crimes Prevention Act Press Conference

The Hates Crimes Prevention Act is a critical tool in an ongoing fight against invidious bias-motivated violence. 

The Civil Rights Division is committed to working with our U.S. Attorney partners, local law enforcement, and community members to increase awareness about the Act and to continue our robust enforcement efforts. 

Organizers hope the anniversary of the events lead to greater collaboration between the community and law enforcement, more effective strategies to combat hate crimes, and enhanced public safety.

The five year anniversary of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is an occasion to both celebrate the passage of this critical legislation and the significant enforcement actions that have already occurred, and to dedicate ourselves to the work necessary to enforce the Act even more effectively going forward, that is according to U.S. Attorney Wagner.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act enables the Justice Department to prosecute crimes motivated by race, color, religion and national origin without having to show that the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity.

The DOJ says the Shepard-Byrd Act also empowers the department to prosecute crimes committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability as hate crimes.

Back in 1998, Matthew Shepard — a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming — was robbed, tortured, tied to a fence along a country road and left to die by two men who offered him a ride home from a local bar. The investigation into Matthew Shepard’s death found strong evidence that his attackers targeted him because he was gay.

That same year, James Byrd Jr. — a 49-year-old African-American man living in Jasper, Texas — accepted a ride home from three men. They drove him to the remote edge of town where they beat him severely, tied him by the ankles to the back of a pickup truck, and dragged him to his death. The three men responsible for his killing were well-known white supremacists.

While the men responsible for the Shepard and Byrd killings were ultimately convicted of murder, none of them was prosecuted for committing a hate crime. At the time these murders were committed, neither Wyoming nor Texas had a hate crimes law, and existing federal hate crimes protections did not include violent acts based on the victim’s sexual orientation and only covered racial violence against those engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting or attending school.

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