First federal hate crimes conference held in Atlanta

According to a registration sheet, 14 members of the Atlanta Police Department attended, as well as law enforcement from across the state including Clayton County, Fayette County, Powder Springs, Newnan and Union City. Atlanta Police Officer Patricia Powell, the new LGBT liaison for the department, attended.

Atlanta was chosen to host a conference because Georgia is one of only five states that does not have a state hate crimes law in effect. The other states are Arkansas, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming.

The 2009 law expanded the 1969 federal hate crimes law to provide protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and disability.

Conference speaker David O’Malley served as commander of the Laramie, Wyo., police department in 1998 when Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was tortured and killed because of his sexual orientation. O’Malley told how he was once very anti-gay.

“I would say ‘faggot’ as easily as I said ‘I love you’ to my kids,” O’Malley said.

But Shepard’s case started a journey for him, he added, that led him not only to tolerance but to acceptance of those different than himself.

“We can start now to make a new ending. I’m accepting, but in our business we have to be at least tolerant,” he said.

Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s father, made a rare public speaking appearance at the conference.

“It’s up to you to do your job whether you like it or not,” he told those in law enforcement.

“As David said, there’s a difference between acceptance and tolerance. I know how hard it is for some of you to accept the law; I know how hard it was for me to accept originally Matt was gay,” he said.

“But there are people out there who are terrified … the law is in effect and you are the leading lights in your community.”

The conference included detailed discussion of the law and how state and local agencies can work together with federal agencies when an alleged hate crime occurs in their jurisdiction.


Top photo: Dennis Shepard, father of Matthew Shepard. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)