President Barack Obama, reacts with the mother of Matthew Shepard, Judy Shepard, second left, and James Byrd Jr.'s sisters, Louvon Harris, left, and Betty Byrd Boatner, second right, during a White House reception commemorating the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
5:45 P.M. EDT
THE 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 because they helped to make today possible. We've got Attorney General Eric Holder. (Applause.) A champion of this legislation, and a great Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.) My dear friend, senior Senator from the great state of Illinois, Dick Durbin. (Applause.) The outstanding Chairman of Armed Services, Carl Levin. (Applause.) Senator Arlen Specter. (Applause.) Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House, Representative John Conyers. (Applause.) Representative Barney Frank. (Applause.) Representative Tammy Baldwin. (Applause.) Representative Jerry Nadler. (Applause.) Representative Jared Polis. (Applause.) All the members 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 the spearheads 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 this day happen, thank you for your years of advocacy and activism, pushing and protesting that made this victory possible.
You know, as a nation we've come far on the journey towards a more perfect union. And today, we've taken another step forward. This afternoon, I signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes 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 was defeated or delayed. Time and again we've been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we're all free to live and love as we see fit. But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the 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 only to break bones, but to break spirits -- not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear. You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights -- both from unjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how necessary this law continues to be.
In the most recent year for which we have data, the FBI reported roughly 7,600 hate crimes in this country. Over the past 10 years, there were more than 12,000 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation alone. And we will never know how many incidents were never reported at all.
And that's why, through this law, we will strengthen the protections against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, or the place of 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 to prosecute to the fullest those who would perpetrate such crimes. Because no one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability.
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