President Barack Obama signed an expanded hate crimes bill into law Wednesday making it a federal offense to commit a crime against a person based on their disability. The law entitled the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expands current hate crimes law to include violence based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. The law is named after two murder victims from 1998 who were targeted for attack because of bigotry. Federal law already includes protections for crimes committed based on race, color, religion or national origin.
President Obama Stated, “No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability. At root, this isn't just about our laws; this is about who we are as a people. This is about whether we value one another -- whether we embrace our differences, rather than allowing them to become a source of animus.”
Quoting President Johnson from when he signed civil rights legislation into law in 1968, Obama said that "the bells of freedom ring out a little louder," when he signed the Act into law.
“You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits -- not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear,” Mr. Obama said, “You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights -- both from unjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how necessary this law continues to be. “
People with disabilities are 50 percent more likely to experience nonfatal violent crime than those without disabilities, according to a Justice Department study released in early October. The study found that about one in five crime victims with disabilities believe their disability was the reason they were targeted.