WASHINGTON, May 9 (JTA) It is “long past time for a national law” against hate crimes, Vice President Al Gore said this week, as he called on Congress to pass pending legislation now.
“We have to send an unmistakable message that if you commit a hate crime you will be punished,” Gore said.
He made the comments Tuesday at an Anti-Defamation League conference in effect, preaching to the choir because the ADL is at the forefront of the push for such legislation.
“Hate crimes are acts of violence not just against a person, not just against individuals, but against our ideals,” he told the group.
A recent shooting rampage in suburban Pittsburgh that killed five people, including Anita Gordon, a 63-year-old Jewish woman, was the latest violent hate crime to grab national headlines. The gunman shot through the windows of two suburban Pittsburgh synagogues as well.
The incident prompted President Clinton last week to renew his call for a national hate crimes law.
“It is simply not true that we do not need national legislation” against hate crimes, Clinton said. “We do.”
There is still time to pass hate crimes legislation this year, but the likelihood of the controversial legislation making its way through Congress during the few legislative days that remain is small.
There are several congressional bills pending that extend federal protection to crimes motivated by the gender, sexual orientation or disability of the victim. Some include authorization of grants from the Justice Department to state and local programs designed to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles.
Some congressional Republicans oppose hate crimes legislation in part because they don’t want to create special classes of victims, and there is concern that the federal government might overstep its bounds and interfere with state and local officials in their investigations of hate crimes.
Steven Denenberg of Omaha found Gore’s unequivocal position on hate crimes legislation “very refreshing.”
Nebraska has a state hate crimes law, but a national law is necessary because states don’t always have the resources that the federal government has, Denenberg said.
But hate crimes legislation has not caught on in the Omaha community, Denenberg’s wife, Tippi, said, because people don’t realize they have the power to enact such legislation and the issue does not get a lot of press.
“A national hate crime bill would set the tone and spirit for the country,” she said.