LEXINGTON, KY. — The U.S. Attorney’s Office trained federal, local and state law enforcement officials and prosecutors from across the Commonwealth in Lexington today concerning a federal civil rights law that can be used to address hate crimes.
Approximately 100 law enforcement officials attended the training held at the University of Kentucky. Experts from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division made presentations. A special focus was placed on a civil rights law enacted in late 2009 known as the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Matthew Shepard was a college student murdered in Wyoming in 1998 for his sexual orientation. James Byrd Jr. was also murdered in 1998 by three white supremacists because he was an African American. This law carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison or up to life if certain aggravated conduct is involved such as kidnapping, murder, sexual abuse or attempts to commit the afore mentioned actions.
“We are committed to enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws,” said the Eastern District’s U.S. Attorney, Kerry B. Harvey. “We are pleased to now have the opportunity to increase awareness across the Commonwealth about this important law enforcement tool to hold those accountable who violate Kentuckians’ civil rights.
A hate crime is defined as a violent act motivated by such factors as a victim’s race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability or gender. According to Kentucky State Police (KSP) statistics, there were 69 hate crimes reported in Kentucky in 2010 (2011 stats are not available).
The Shepard-Byrd Act has expanded the groups covered by federal hate crime laws. Significant expansion of previous laws include the following:
*Hate crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time.
* Hate crimes motivated by one’s disability or gender. Previously, laws covered gender and disability only as it related to Fair Housing.
* Hate crimes occurring in almost any activity or setting such as walking down the street or at someone’s private residence. KSP statistics reveal that more than half of Kentucky’s hate crimes in 2010 occurred at the victim’s residence, a street, alley or highway. Other laws cover hate crimes that exclusively take place in federally protected areas such as public pools, schools, churches, etc.