Remarks by the President at Reception Commemorating the Enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

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President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 10-28-09
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  The White House Office of the Press SecretaryFor Immediate ReleaseOctober 28, 2009 Remarks by the President at Reception Commemorating theEnactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. HateCrimes Prevention Act East Room 5:45 P.M. EDTTHE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, everybody. Thank you so much,and welcome to the White House.There are several people here that I want to just make mention of becausethey helped to make today possible. We've got Attorney General EricHolder. (Applause.) A champion of this legislation, and a great Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.) My dear friend, senior Senator fromthe great state of Illinois, Dick Durbin. (Applause.) The outstandingChairman of Armed Services, Carl Levin. (Applause.) Senator ArlenSpecter. (Applause.) Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House,Representative John Conyers. (Applause.) Representative Barney Frank.(Applause.) Representative Tammy Baldwin. (Applause.) RepresentativeJerry Nadler. (Applause.) Representative Jared Polis. (Applause.) All themembers of Congress who are here today, we thank you.Mr. David Bohnett and Mr. Tom Gregory and the David Bohnett Foundation-- they are partners for this reception. Thank you so much, guys, for helping to host this. (Applause.)And finally, and most importantly, because these were really thespearheads of this effort -- Denis, Judy, and Logan Shepard. (Applause.)  As well as Betty Byrd Boatner and Louvon Harris -- sisters of James Byrd,Jr. (Applause.)To all the activists, all the organizers, all the people who helped make thisday happen, thank you for your years of advocacy and activism, pushingand protesting that made this victory possible.You know, as a nation we've come far on the journey towards a moreperfect union. And today, we've taken another step forward. Thisafternoon, I signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. HateCrimes Prevention Act. (Applause.)This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade.Time and again, we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure wasdefeated or delayed. Time and again we've been reminded of the difficultyof building a nation in which we're all free to live and love as we see fit. Butthe cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils andled marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, bythe late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation --(applause) -- and all who toiled for years to reach this day.You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not onlyto break bones, but to break spirits -- not only to inflict harm, but to instillfear. You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights -- both fromunjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how necessary this lawcontinues to be.In the most recent year for which we have data, the FBI reported roughly7,600 hate crimes in this country. Over the past 10 years, there were morethan 12,000 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation alone. Andwe will never know how many incidents were never reported at all.And that's why, through this law, we will strengthen the protections againstcrimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, or the placeof your birth. We will finally add federal protections against crimes based  on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. (Applause.)And prosecutors will have new tools to work with states in order toprosecute to the fullest those who would perpetrate such crimes. Becauseno one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding thehands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to lookover their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with adisability.At root, this isn't just about our laws; this is about who we are as a people.This is about whether we value one another -- whether we embrace our differences, rather than allowing them tobecome a source of animus. It's hard for any of us to imagine the mind-setof someone who would kidnap a young man and beat him to within an inchof his life, tie him to a fence, and leave him for dead. It's hard for any of usto imagine the twisted mentality of those who'd offer a neighbor a ridehome, attack him, chain him to the back of a truck, and drag him for milesuntil he finally died.But we sense where such cruelty begins: the moment we fail to see inanother our common humanity -- the very moment when we fail torecognize in a person the same fears and hopes, the same passions andimperfections, the same dreams that we all share.We have for centuries strived to live up to our founding ideal, of a nationwhere all are free and equal and able to pursue their own version of happiness. Through conflict and tumult, through the morass of hatred andprejudice, through periods of division and discord we have endured andgrown stronger and fairer and freer. And at every turn, we've madeprogress not only by changing laws but by changing hearts, by our willingness to walk in another's shoes, by our capacity to love and accepteven in the face of rage and bigotry.In April of 1968, just one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, as our nation mourned in grief and shuddered in anger, PresidentLyndon Johnson signed landmark civil rights legislation. This was the firsttime we enshrined into law federal protections against crimes motivated byreligious or racial hatred -- the law on which we build today.  As he signed his name, at a difficult moment for our country, PresidentJohnson said that through this law the bells of freedom ring out a littlelouder. That is the promise of America. Over the sounds of hatred andchaos, over the din of grief and anger, we can still hear those ideals -- evenwhen they are faint, even when some would try to drown them out. At our best we seek to make sure those ideals can be heard and felt byAmericans everywhere. And that work did not end in 1968. It certainlydoes not end today. But because of the efforts of the folks in this room --particularly those family members who are standing behind me -- we canbe proud that that bell rings even louder now and each day grows louder still.So thank you very much. God bless you and God bless the United Statesof America. (Applause.)Video of President Obama's remarks for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act
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