Bell introduces bill against hate crimes Sexual orientation, race, ethnicity included

October 20, 1998|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Troubled by the killing of a gay University of Wyoming student last week, the Baltimore City Council is taking steps to deter attacks against the city's gays and lesbians who do not have the protection of Maryland's anti-hate crimes statute.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III introduced a hate crimes bill last night, and the rest of the council joined him as co-sponsors, ensuring the measure's passage.

The bill almost mirrors the state's law, which imposes sanctions against those who abuse or attack individuals because of race or ethnicity. The the state law does not include sexual orientation.

"No one should be abused, assaulted, mistreated simply because they're different from you and I," Bell said.

Bell also introduced -- and the council passed -- a resolution that urges the state to amend its hate crimes law to include sexual orientation.

The bills were prompted by the death of Matthew Shepard, 21, who died Oct. 12, five days after his skull was smashed with a pistol butt and he was lashed to a fence in near-freezing temperatures outside Laramie, Wyo. Police have charged two 21-year-old men with murder.

Police said that robbery was the primary motive for the attack, but the men singled out Shepard because he was gay.

Bell held a news conference yesterday morning to announce the bill. He said the only concern he has is ensuring that the bill's language does not violate protections of free speech.

Suzanne Smith, who coordinates legislative efforts for the Baltimore office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group's lawyers plan to review the bill. But Smith added that the organization generally supports legislation such as Bell's.

Bell said he believes the bill is needed because he has seen reports of hate crimes in Baltimore that concern him.

The FBI's latest figures show that 52 hate crimes were reported in Baltimore in 1996. Three of them involved sexual orientation, according to David Brown, Bell's spokesman.

Baltimore police keep statistics on hate crimes, but those figures were not readily available yesterday.

Washington has adopted measures similar to that proposed by Bell. Twenty-one states have laws that seek to deter crimes against people because of their sexual orientation, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington.

"It's important to have laws to deter these crimes, to educate the public about these problems, to let people know that they do exist and that they won't be tolerated," said Tracey Conaty, spokeswoman for the task force.

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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