Dettelbach Attends White House Event to Mark the Fifth Anniversary of Landmark Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act
U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach was invited to the White House yesterday to speak at an event marking the fifth anniversary of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Dettelbach, who co-Chairs the Civil Rights Subcommittee of Attorney General Eric Holder’s Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys, moderated a panel discussion about enforcement of the Shepard-Byrd law. He was also present at the White House when President Obama signed the landmark act into law in 2009.
Providing keynote remarks at the event were Matthew Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, and James Byrd Jr.’s sister, Louvon Harris, as well as Rana Singh Sodhi, the brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a member of the Sikh faith, believed to be the first murder victim of post-9/11 backlash.
“This anniversary was both happy and sad,” Dettelbach said. “Happy because of the positive impact this law has had in our communities, sad because of the tragedies that caused it to be enacted and which continue to require our constant efforts to enforce it. The grace and courage of the families of the victims in these terrible cases is simply inspirational. Talking with and listening to these incredible people reminded me again of the great privilege and responsibility we all have to protect the rights of every person in this nation.”
Speakers at the White House event, which was attended by invited leadership of the civil rights and law enforcement communities, also included Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, FBI Director James Comey, Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Divison, Vanita Gupta.
The landmark civil rights legislation was named after Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who was gay, and James Byrd Jr., a 49-year-old African-American man living in Jasper, Texas. Both were brutally murdered in acts of unspeakable intolerance and hate.
The Shepard-Byrd Act, named in their honor, expanded federal hate crimes protections to include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability. The act also removed unnecessary hurdles to prosecuting hate crimes committed because of race, color, or national origin. It also gave the Justice Department new tools for prosecuting criminals and directed new resources to law enforcement agencies so they could better serve their communities. And it has made it possible for more Americans to live freely and openly, reinforcing our nation’s sacred commitment to equality for all.
Thursday’s event was an opportunity to recognize how the Shepard-Byrd Act has improved our ability to address hate crimes, and the tremendous amount of work that remains.
The Department of Justice also announced several actions to strengthen and improve the federal government’s ability to prevent and respond to hate crimes, including a new series of trainings on the Shepard-Byrd Act around the country for state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies and community leaders.
In the past five fiscal years (2009-2013), the Department of Justice has charged 201 defendants on federal hate crimes or hate crimes-related charges, including the Shepard-Byrd Act and other federal hate crimes provisions -- an increase of almost 50 percent from the prior five fiscal years (2004-2008). The Department also convicted almost 50 percent more defendants on federal hate crimes or hate crimes-related charges, compared to the prior five fiscal years. The announcements will help federal and state law enforcement to continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute hate crimes nationwide.