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At a May 13 meeting at the offices of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan in Detroit, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Michigan made a promise to the state’s LGBT community: to support them; to uphold respect and equality; most importantly, to fight mercilessly for us in court when we are beaten, discriminated against, or even murdered.
Their support is more than welcome, and gives us reason to put our minds at ease knowing that, although we cannot always stop anti-gay people from committing hate crimes against us, we will now have a friend in court.
“We want to communicate to you how important the LGBT community is to us. For too long, the Department of Justice has ignored this community and – no more. We are here to serve you.”
These words, spoken by U.S. attorney for the district Barbara McQuade, are great to hear spoken by such a powerful ally in the court system, but it’s even better to know that they’re not empty. McQuade and her team took it a step further, pushing the message that LGBT hate crimes can be reported directly to their offices – even supplying listeners with their direct phone line.
Part of the strategy that is under way to help with accurate reporting and prosecution of hate crimes in our state is educating law enforcement. In upcoming seminars, they’ll be taught what constitutes a hate crime, the protocol to follow when one is reported in their jurisdiction and which classes are protected under current state and federal law – the latter of which now includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
But hate crime reporting, and the reliability of individual officers can be flawed. Jurisdictions are not required to submit statistics, which means that hate crimes remain drastically underreported. With a class like LGBT people, who so often still face blatant discrimination, a lack of overall reporting may be compounded with ignorance or prejudice of whichever officer or department a hate crime victim turns to for help.
The district attorney’s office recommends reporting both to local officials and either their office, or the FBI.
An important thing to note is that because Michigan lacks state protections for hate crimes committed against LGBT people, the federal government has automatic proof of jurisdiction in those cases. This means that they are able to prosecute any anti-gay or anti-transgender hate crime in the state – if the case is properly reported.
We have the power to obtain full justice for crimes committed against us. But, as with many laws, proper enforcement and accurate reports will require steadfastness on the community’s part in terms of reporting and continued education of law enforcement officials to ensure that, like the Eastern District attorney’s office, they are on our side.
The reporting of hate crimes is necessary, both to prove that our protection is needed, and to ensure that crimes against LGBT people are prosecuted. If you or someone you know is a victim, don’t wait for local law enforcement to do the work for you. Call the ACLU, or Equality Michigan, or the district attorney’s office directly to make sure that justice is served.