Deaths prompt calls for hate crimes law

December 16, 2008 7:59:11 PM PST
Lawmakers and Hispanic groups on Tuesday denounced the beating death of an Ecuadorean immigrant, saying his and other recent slayings of Latino immigrants lend new urgency to the need for a federal hate crimes law. During a news conference, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., named three immigrants he said were killed "simply because of who they were."

Jose Osvaldo Sucuzhanay, an Ecuadorean immigrant living in New York, was beaten Dec. 7 by men who yelled anti-Hispanic and anti-gay slurs at him and his brother, Rommel. Police were still searching for suspects.

"The senseless loss of life cannot be met with silence but rather must be condemned with our loudest voices," Schumer said.

Latino leaders said considering what appeared to be rising anti-Latino sentiment, Congress should pass legislation to expand the federal hate crimes law. The bill, known as the Matthew Shepard Act, would add protections for bias crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation and disabilities, and expand Justice Department's investigative powers.

Current law limits federal investigation of hate crimes to when a federally protected activity is occurring, such as voting. But that restriction would be lifted under the proposal.

The bill also would give local officials resources to investigate hate crimes.

Sucuzhanay's death followed those of Marcelo Lucero, who was fatally stabbed Nov. 8, in Patchogue, N.Y., by a group of teenagers, and the July 14 death of Luis Ramirez, 25, a Mexican immigrant who was fatally beaten in eastern Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors said seven teenagers charged in Lucero's assault had set out to find a Hispanic person to attack. Three teenagers have been charged in connection with Ramirez's death. The three also face charges of ethnic intimidation. A fourth teenager faces less serious charges and will be prosecuted as a juvenile.

FBI statistics show there were 830 Hispanic victims of hate crimes last year, up from 819 the previous year and 595 in 2003.

"We have seen that a culture of fear, hate and xenophobia, ultimately leads to a crime of violence," said Schumer, who helped sponsor the law that required the government to keep hate crime statistics.

John Trasvina, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of Hispanic groups, said the bill, named after a gay college student who was fatally beaten in October 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., would ensure hate crimes are prosecuted when there is reluctance to do so at the local level.

"One of the most important things the hate crimes bill would do would be to bring out the power of the Department of Justice to this effort. Currently most of these crimes are treated as local crimes," Trasvina said.

Schumer said he would join Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., to push for passage of the bill in the next Congress. President-elect Barack Obama also is likely to support passage of the bill.


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