From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
October 12, 1998
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Author of Texas Anti-Hate Crimes Bill Condemns Killing of Gay Man

Houston, TX -- Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today condemned the brutal beating of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard and called for a crackdown on hate crimes.

We are seeing the occurrence of crimes of hate come with shocking regularity, said Ellis. The persons responsible for the death of Matthew Shepard provide further evidence that hate and violence are considered to be normal behavior for some individuals. Legislators must take positive steps to confront hate crimes and send a strong signal to those who would brutalize our citizens because of race, religion or sexual orientation.

Matthew Shepard was beaten, robbed and tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyoming, in near-freezing temperatures last Wednesday. Mr. Shepard remained in critical condition until the time of his death early this morning. While it was initially believed he was the target of a robbery, one of Mr. Shepards alleged assailants is reported to have been motivated because Mr. Shepard was gay.

Just months ago we laid to rest James Byrd, Jr. after he died at the hands of hatemongers in Jasper, Texas, stated Senator Ellis. Now the nation has once again witnessed the tragic destruction of hate.

Senator Ellis, who passed the Texas hate crimes statute in 1993, will sponsor legislation in the 1999 session to further assist prosecutors in pursuing hate crimes. Current law allows for persons convicted of a crime of bias or prejudice to receive an increased level of punishment. However, prosecutors have asked the Legislature to tighten up the statute to more closely resemble language upheld in the United States Supreme Court.

Hate crime laws are not merely meant to punish the hate; they also stand as a symbol that hatred will be given no shelter in our schools, our neighborhoods or our communities, Senator Ellis stated. Texans have a strong tradition of protecting the individual. I hope we will not let these deaths pass in vain without doing something to prevent hateful acts.

Between 1992 and 1997, there were about 2300 incidents of hate crimes reported in the state. Almost two-thirds of these crimes were racially motivated, approximately one in six were perpetrated against persons because of their sexual orientation. The number of reported hate crimes in Texas decreased 5.4 percent in 1997. That is down from a 7.7 percent increase in the number of reports in 1996, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.