When U.S. House Judi­ciary Com­mittee Chairman John Conyers needed an expert to per­suade Con­gress to sup­port his anti-​​hate crime bill, he knew exactly where to turn. He called Jack McDe­vitt, asso­ciate dean of North­eastern University’s Col­lege of Crim­inal Justice.

Last month, McDe­vitt tes­ti­fied before the House Judi­ciary Com­mittee in sup­port of leg­is­la­tion that would greatly expand the reach of fed­eral law to address hate crimes. His depth of knowl­edge of hate crime sta­tis­tics and ability to refute crit­i­cism with facts helped Conyers’ leg­is­la­tion, also known as H.R. 1592, gain pas­sage by a vote of 237 to 180.

McDe­vitt was recently con­tacted by Sen­ator Edward Kennedy’s office to help draft the Senate ver­sion of the bill, drawing upon decades of expe­ri­ence at North­eastern, having co-​​authored two books with soci­ol­o­gist Jack Levin and con­ducted numerous studies on hate crime, including a gov­ern­ment report on improving hate crime analysis, released by the White House in 2000.

The bill would serve a three-​​fold pur­pose. First, it would allow fed­eral gov­ern­ment to assist local law enforce­ment with hate crime inves­ti­ga­tions, via grant funding and man­power. Second, it would remove cur­rent limits that allow fed­eral involve­ment only if crimes occur while vic­tims are engaged in federally-​​protected activ­i­ties, such as voting and going to school.

Third – and a source of major con­tro­versy – the bill would expand the reach of fed­eral law to pros­e­cute crimes moti­vated by bias against gender, gender iden­tity, sexual ori­en­ta­tion, and dis­ability. This func­tion has sparked heated oppo­si­tion from polit­ical pun­dits and spir­i­tual leaders who decry the bill as a threat to free speech. Their con­cern is that pas­tors who speak against homo­sex­u­ality in houses of wor­ship would face pros­e­cu­tion under H.R. 1592.

Not so, says McDe­vitt, who hopes opposing sides will come to an under­standing that the bill exists to improve the lives of all hate crimes vic­tims, without threat­ening Con­sti­tu­tional rights.

Despite claims by those opposing the bill, its lan­guage clearly limits fed­eral pros­e­cu­tion to vio­lent crimes, not verbal artic­u­la­tion of reli­gious beliefs,” explains McDe­vitt. “We are all enti­tled to our beliefs. We are not enti­tled, how­ever, to cruel, phys­ical attacks moti­vated by big­otry and hatred, which ter­rorize law-​​abiding cit­i­zens, and divide our communities.”

As he con­tinues to work with Con­gress on preparing the Senate bill for con­sid­er­a­tion, McDe­vitt under­stands the chal­lenges that lie ahead. The White House has indi­cated oppo­si­tion to the leg­is­la­tion, which is expected to go before the Senate some­time this spring. There­fore, the bill’s suc­cess will depend largely on sup­port from a wide range of groups con­cerned with civil rights, including the Anti-​​Defamation League, which has coor­di­nated efforts to push the bill this far, and cit­i­zens across the country, who will con­tact their leg­is­la­tors to demon­strate support.

If mem­bers of cer­tain groups are afraid to move into or drive through a par­tic­ular com­mu­nity for fear of attack, America is weaker for it,” states McDe­vitt, reflecting words from his tes­ti­mony. “H.R. 1592 is a vital next step in sending the mes­sage that Amer­i­cans will not tol­erate hate-​​motivated vio­lence to be per­pe­trated on mem­bers of our society.”

For more infor­ma­tion on McDevitt’s work on this leg­is­la­tion, please feel free to con­tact John Natale at 617–373-2802 or j.​natale@​neu.​edu.

 

About North­eastern: Founded in 1898, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is a pri­vate research uni­ver­sity located in the heart of Boston. North­eastern is a leader in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, urban engage­ment, and the inte­gra­tion of class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. The university’s dis­tinc­tive coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram, where stu­dents alter­nate semes­ters of full-​​time study with semes­ters of paid work in fields rel­e­vant to their pro­fes­sional inter­ests and major, is one of the largest and most inno­v­a­tive in the world. The Uni­ver­sity offers a com­pre­hen­sive range of under­grad­uate and grad­uate pro­grams leading to degrees through the doc­torate in six under­grad­uate col­leges, eight grad­uate schools, and two part-​​time divi­sions. For more infor­ma­tion, please visit www​.north​eastern​.edu.