When U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers needed an expert to persuade Congress to support his anti-hate crime bill, he knew exactly where to turn. He called Jack McDevitt, associate dean of Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice.
Last month, McDevitt testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of legislation that would greatly expand the reach of federal law to address hate crimes. His depth of knowledge of hate crime statistics and ability to refute criticism with facts helped Conyers’ legislation, also known as H.R. 1592, gain passage by a vote of 237 to 180.
McDevitt was recently contacted by Senator Edward Kennedy’s office to help draft the Senate version of the bill, drawing upon decades of experience at Northeastern, having co-authored two books with sociologist Jack Levin and conducted numerous studies on hate crime, including a government report on improving hate crime analysis, released by the White House in 2000.
The bill would serve a three-fold purpose. First, it would allow federal government to assist local law enforcement with hate crime investigations, via grant funding and manpower. Second, it would remove current limits that allow federal involvement only if crimes occur while victims are engaged in federally-protected activities, such as voting and going to school.
Third – and a source of major controversy – the bill would expand the reach of federal law to prosecute crimes motivated by bias against gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. This function has sparked heated opposition from political pundits and spiritual leaders who decry the bill as a threat to free speech. Their concern is that pastors who speak against homosexuality in houses of worship would face prosecution under H.R. 1592.
Not so, says McDevitt, who hopes opposing sides will come to an understanding that the bill exists to improve the lives of all hate crimes victims, without threatening Constitutional rights.
“Despite claims by those opposing the bill, its language clearly limits federal prosecution to violent crimes, not verbal articulation of religious beliefs,” explains McDevitt. “We are all entitled to our beliefs. We are not entitled, however, to cruel, physical attacks motivated by bigotry and hatred, which terrorize law-abiding citizens, and divide our communities.”
As he continues to work with Congress on preparing the Senate bill for consideration, McDevitt understands the challenges that lie ahead. The White House has indicated opposition to the legislation, which is expected to go before the Senate sometime this spring. Therefore, the bill’s success will depend largely on support from a wide range of groups concerned with civil rights, including the Anti-Defamation League, which has coordinated efforts to push the bill this far, and citizens across the country, who will contact their legislators to demonstrate support.
“If members of certain groups are afraid to move into or drive through a particular community for fear of attack, America is weaker for it,” states McDevitt, reflecting words from his testimony. “H.R. 1592 is a vital next step in sending the message that Americans will not tolerate hate-motivated violence to be perpetrated on members of our society.”
For more information on McDevitt’s work on this legislation, please feel free to contact John Natale at 617-373-2802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Northeastern: Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston. Northeastern is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience. The university’s distinctive cooperative education program, where students alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of paid work in fields relevant to their professional interests and major, is one of the largest and most innovative in the world. The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in six undergraduate colleges, eight graduate schools, and two part-time divisions. For more information, please visit www.northeastern.edu.