The following narrative from Matthew Shepard Foundation’s Director of Civil Rights Reform, Cynthia Deitle, gives a brief introduction of the article “Ten Year’s Fighting Hate.” Written by 3rd year University of Tennessee College of Law student Dave Hall and published on April 13, 2020 by the University of Miami Race and Social Justice Law Review, the Article examines the history and logic of the Act, reviews prosecutions under the Act, and looks ahead at ways in which the Act could be improved in the future.
In October of 2019, the Matthew Shepard Foundation celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009. This hate crime law dramatically increased the jurisdiction of the FBI and Department of Justice to investigate bias-motivated violence targeting our most vulnerable individuals, most notably, those identifying as LGBTQ+. As Chief of the Civil Rights Unit for the FBI at that time, I was present at the White House and watched President Barack Obama enact this historic legislation into law. As a licensed attorney, I knew that legal scholars would follow the enforcement of the Shepard-Byrd law as it would undoubtedly face constitutional challenges. Over the past decade, federal courts have consistently upheld Shepard-Byrd and numerous judicial opinions have been written about the constitutionality of the law. After reading many of these opinions, and understanding the struggle faced by Dennis and Judy Shepard and many civil rights advocates to pass this law, I wanted to ensure that someone was capturing this story as the law was transforming civil rights enforcement in this country. I found that person at the University of Tennessee College of Law thanks to my friend, Dean Melanie Wilson.
When I told Dean Wilson that I was searching for an intern to write about the history, purpose, and application of Shepard-Byrd, she enthusiastically recommended 2nd-year law student Dave Hall. Dave, a Latinx male, philosopher, and civil rights champion, agreed to help. Little did he know at the time how his research would change his own thinking about privilege, moral courage, and the need for hate crime laws. “When you asked me to write the piece that would become Ten Years Fighting Hate, I was in an interesting intellectual position,” Dave said. “When I started this project, even though I was committed to the fight, I wasn’t sure I believed in the legal or philosophical propriety of hate crime legislation. I knew I believed in the moral mandate the law carries to protect those people among us who are most in need of protection. But I wasn’t certain that enhanced penalties for actions that were already criminal was the right way to protect those of us who need it”, Dave explained.
Like every dedicated law student, Dave began researching, thinking, and analyzing with the goal of writing an unbiased history of the law. Over the course of a year, Dave discovered that he could no longer be objective. His views were changing. He was changing. “I learned about the terrorism that is inherent to hate crimes, and about the far-reaching tendrils that sort of hate has. Unchecked, it can poison whole communities. I learned that hate crimes aren’t just extra punishments tacked on to existing crimes; hate crimes are a whole different type of crime. They carry special dangers. They do exponential damage. They ought to be treated differently. I was a skeptic on this issue when I started, but my mind was open, and the moral logic of the law changed my point of view. I know this is becoming rarer as we become more firmly entrenched in our positions. I know that it’s possible to change, to grow, in response to love and logic. And that’s a good thing to know when what you really want to do is fight hate,” commented Dave.
Lawyers, academics, and scholars seeking to conduct further research into the history of hate crime legislation will undoubtedly cite to Ten Years Fighting Hate. The article expertly illustrates not just the history and purpose of the law, but also how advocates crafted it in such a way as to survive constitutional challenges. Dave’s work will memorialize the resiliency and determination of Dennis and Judy Shepard, and countless other advocates, as they fought to bring positive and lasting change in the wake of their son’s murder.
Thanks for helping us fight hate, Dave, and thanks to Dean Wilson, University of Tennessee College of Law, and Dean Anthony Varona from the University of Miami School of Law and the staff of the Race and Social Justice Law Review for publishing Ten Years Fighting Hate.
READ THE ARTICLE – Ten Years of Fighting Hate