JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Senate Bill 2163 and House Bill 1499 call for the amendment of the state’s existing ‘hate crimes law’ to be more inclusive, and Tuesday is the deadline for legislators to decide if the two bills will make it out of committee and onto the floor.
“The Federal Hate Crimes Law passed a number of years ago and it covers people with disabilities and people in the LGBT community,” said Dr. Scott Crawford, Board Chair for the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities.
Crawford was referring to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Mathew Shepard Act. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Shepard was tortured and killed by two teenage boys because he was gay and Byrd was tortured and killed by three men because he was black. Both happened in 1998 - 11 years before the law was created.
“It’s different when you attack someone because of who or what they are, what your ability is," Dr. Crawford said. "It doesn’t just affect that single person. It affects everyone like them. It intimidates and terrorizes an entire community.”
The federal law expanded civil rights-era protections to “all crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived race, color, sexual orientation or disability.”
In 2011, three New Mexico men were the first to be indicted under the Mathew Shepard Act for branding a swastika into the skin of mentally disabled Navajo man.
Dr. Crawford said Mississippians should be held just as accountable.
“It’s a crime against not just one or two or five people, it’s against thousands of people. We should not tolerate that here in Mississippi. We’re better than that,” he continued.