From the Office of State Senator Royce West - District 23

For Immediate Release
May 21, 2001

Hate Crimes law, a long time coming - Racial Profiling, a short time to get there

Finally, it's done. I was blessed to witness it all. Friday, May 11, 2001, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into the law House Bill 587, The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act.

The governor's signature on that bill culminated efforts that have been in progress since my first Legislative Session back in 1993. Its signing brought forth both a sense of accomplishment and relief for many, but surely none more than the family of James Byrd Jr.

I was privileged to be a part of the bill signing ceremony and to have the opportunity to speak with the Byrd family. The dignity that they have exhibited throughout the three years since their very personal tragedy is commendable.

The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act passed out of the Texas Senate, Monday May 7, 2001. But it took the events that transpired in Dallas five days earlier to provide the impetus. It came as a shock when word reached me in Austin, that the church pastored by Rev. Dr. Zan Holmes Jr., the St. Luke "Community" United Methodist Church, had been desecrated by those who chose to act outside the bounds of convention and moral standards to mire themselves in venomous acts.

It was monumental when members of the House of Representatives filed into the Senate Chamber and stood with me during more than an hour of "personal privilege" oration on behalf of and in opposition to Hate Crimes legislation. The result, one of my Senate colleagues who had been opposed to House Bill 587 had a change of heart, and with that, came the support necessary to bring the bill to the floor for debate. I've often heard the spiritual idiom that man's extremity is God's opportunity. That saying was made real with all here to witness.

The stated objection to the Hate Crimes legislation was that it contains "enumeration." In layman's terms, House Bill 587 and Senate Bill 87 contains language that specifically names groups who would be covered therein through statute. Proponents say that this is needed due to the vagueness of the current Hate Crimes law. It does not contain the elements of the landmark 1993 Wisconsin v. Mitchell case. That case defines a hate crime as one that has been proven to have been motivated by "the race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry" of its victim.

The unstated reservation of some lawmakers was in providing protection under law for cases involving sexual orientation. While I maintain traditional family values, one's sexual orientation should not make them the target of malicious acts of crime.

Under the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, the penalty for a crime ruled to be motivated by hate will be enhanced. To better explain, if the crime was assault, and hate was found to be a factor, the penalty will be increased by one punishment level, from a Class A misdemeanor, to a third degree felony.

The bill would also assist small counties in prosecuting hate crimes and assign a person in the Texas Attorney General's Office to serve as hate crimes director.

I am equally pleased to announce that Senate Bill 1074, to prevent Racial Profiling by law enforcement, was approved by the Texas House of Representatives, Tuesday, May 15. The brunt of my work on this particular legislation actually took place here at the State Capitol, a centrally located venue where the majority of those with a say in this matter tend to frequent on a regular basis during the Legislative Session.

We, being lawmakers, law enforcement, police organizations and the Civil Rights community, were able to come together - always with an end-product in mind - and hammer out the details of a bill that will have a lasting impact on how police and citizens respond to routine traffic and pedestrian interactions.

There are a few legal details remaining before this bill will also make the trip to the Governor's Mansion to be signed into law.

Under the terms of the Racial Profiling Bill, all police patrol cars in the state of Texas are to be equipped with video cameras and audio capabilities. Traffic citations will contain additional fields for information pertaining to race or ethnicity, gender, whether or not a search was conducted, if the search was consensual, and if the search resulted in an arrest. Senate Bill 1074 also includes provisions whereby citizens may file complaints if and when they feel an incident of Racial Profiling has occurred.

While rumblings from some in law enforcement feel these requirements will impede the efficiency of their normal duties, the mandates of the Racial Profiling bill can be an effective tool for police officers. In addition to the obvious recording of traffic stops, the audio/visual information can be a deterrent to frivolous lawsuits, and serve as a training instrument for proper law enforcement technique. It is a great feeling when the work of the few are able to benefit the whole.

Texas, in national circles, does not always hold the reputation of being a progressive state. But with the passage of Hate Crimes and Racial Profiling legislation, the public conscious on the minds of its elected officials, and a renewed spirit within the ranks of those who are vigilant in regard to the rights of citizens, this can be a place where we are all feel safe in our daily pursuits. It can be a state of which we are all Texas proud.

Royce West
Texas Senate

For more information, please contact Kelvin Bass at 512-463-0123.

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