Federal hate-crime law includes offenses motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or disability. The Shepard-Byrd Act only applies to violent felonies such as murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping or rape.
State-level hate crime laws vary widely. Some also include misdemeanors such as vandalism or property damage, threats or intimidation. They also cover different types of victims.
31 states and DC include sexual orientation among protected victims
12 states and DC include gender identity or gender expression
5 states have no state-level hate crimes law (Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming)
2. If you see something, say something!
The only way to get hate crime statistics to be more accurate is to report. We understand that much like sexual assault, victims are afraid to come forward out of fear of being revictimized. We live in a precarious time right now–one where you can get fired from your job for being LGBTQ+ in 30 states. We understand that immigrants are living in fear of ICE and don’t want to draw attention to themselves. But in many places, mayors and the police have pledged to serve its citizens regardless of immigration status.
Don’t just report to your local police. Go to the FBI. Report to state, local, and federal law enforcement so that there are many records of the incident.
3. Coordinate a hate crimes training where you live.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation offers trainings for law enforcement, communities, and everyone in between. Contact our Programs Department to see how you can bring MSF to your town.
Training for law enforcement agencies is necessary if officers are to effectively investigate hate crimes and report them accurately each year to the FBI. Unfortunately, not all law enforcement agencies require officers to undergo hate crimes trainings. The most important first step you can take is simply to find out if your local police department and sheriff department have such requirements. If you’re uncomfortable contacting them, or if you’re not sure how to contact them, please email the Matthew Shepard Foundation so that we can help.
4. Engage with your police departments if you have questions about their data.
If you think the data is flawed or incomplete, reach out to your local police or FBI office and ask them about the numbers. Ask them what goes into their reporting and whether it’s mandatory. Oftentimes, you’ll find that it’s not. This is where we can come in!
5. If you think your hate crime statute isn’t sufficient, advocate for them to improve.
Join local organizations like the regional Anti-Defamation League or HRC. They are looking to improve your hate crime laws and more broadly protect its citizens.
Vote! As Dennis Shepard says, “When they go low, we go local.” Your local elections are important to improving these laws. Find a lobby day, canvas for someone who pledges to improve the laws, get behind anyone who understands the importance of the Shepard-Byrd Act. If you don’t think your hate crime statute isn’t sufficient, contact your legislators and advocate for a change in the law.
Matthew Shepard Foundation5 Things You Can do to Improve Hate Crime Reporting