|Emmett Till (left) and Trayvon Martin (right)|
Written for theGrio.com
What we think of as hate crime legislation began with the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It said, in part, that anyone who injures, intimidates, or attempts to do either to another based on their race, color, religion or national origin "shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than one year, or both." It goes on to detail assaults, attempted assaults, threats, sexual abuse, kidnapping and murder as offenses with special consequences when motivated by bias -- those consequences ranging from something as small as a fine to as significant as a death sentence.
Such laws did not exist throughout much of America's history of racial terrorism, intimidation and crime; these provisions, written into the Civil Rights Act, did not exist until 13 years after the murder of Emmett Till. They could possibly play a part if charges are brought in the death of Trayvon Martin, however.
Notably, the legislation does specify that free speech and peaceful assembly are still protected by the Constitution, but not to the point that they aid or invite another to commit an act of violence upon someone.
Despite the fact that the provisions set forth in legislation, like the Civil Rights Act, define the protection and limits of free speech, critics of hate crime laws say they put limitations on civil liberties.
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