The UW Oshkosh Women’s Center, with sponsorship by the Division of Academic Support of Inclusive Excellence, hosted a panel discussion to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Oct. 28.
Panelist and UWO criminal justice professor David Jones said the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is important because no one should be persecuted because of their race, gender or sexual orientation.
He added that “”it’s also important symbolically because we’re saying, ‘We’re against [hate crimes] as a society.’”
Panelist and University Police Chief of Police Kurt Leibold said the act was a long time coming.
“To have this type of law is very important because this crime is an individual crime against a single person, but it really affects an entire community,” Leibold said.
Panelist and UWO compliance & training specialist Natasha Aguilera said it is extremely important to have federal laws that protect historically oppressed groups to fill any gaps in legal protection that may exist at the state level.
“This law in particular is important because it helps to fill a gap in protection left by Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1968,” Aguilera said. “That act, sometimes referred to as the CPA, included a prerequisite that the victim be engaged in a protected activity. The HCPA removes that prerequisite and punishes those who commit crimes motivated by the victim’s protected class.”
Jones said in his ideal world, people would accept people as human beings.
“Who cares what the color of their skin is or who they want to have relations with? To me, that’s not an important part,” Jones said. “In some ways, it is important. But that’s not a reason to like or dislike someone.”
Aguilera said she first heard about what had happened 21 years ago in depth during her first or second year of college and was horrified.
“What I had to work through and accept was that these crimes were not unique,” Aguilera said. “We have these laws because people in the United States continue to be physically harmed and killed because of who they are.”
Leibold said the Act should’ve been a no-brainer despite it being passed 10 years after what had happened to Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and James Byrd Jr. in Texas in the late ‘90s.
“When you start getting people’s different perspectives on things and people’s biases comes into it, that’s what makes it politics,” Leibold said. “That’s what makes it all drag out. I appreciate the families that really stuck to this and ensured that it would happen. That took a lot of courage on their part. We should all be appreciative of what they did. And obviously they suffered some pretty big losses there.”
Aguilera said she hopes 10 years from now we eradicate hate crimes.
“To work towards that; however, we need to be aware of our own history as a country,” Aguilera said. “Our history reminds us that laws alone, although absolutely necessary, will not completely eradicate discrimination, bigotry and hate. We all need to do our part.”