U.S. Attorney on Lookout for Hate Crimes Directed at Muslims

Nashville’s federal prosecutor pledged to be tough on hate crime Thursday at a forum on the topic. In attendance was the family of Matthew Shepard, whose murder inspired new federal hate crime laws.

President Obama signed the legislation in 2009. It gives new authority to pursue hate crimes based on gender, sexual orientation and religion. But U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin says he’s unaware of any current indictments under the statute locally.

“The Middle District of Tennessee is a nice place to live with nice people. And so these aren’t something that occur every day.”

The new hate crime law has taken a while to catch on around the country. The first people convicted under it were just sentenced to prison this week. The men were found guilty of branding a swastika on a developmentally disabled Navajo Indian.

Martin says he’s on the lookout for hate crimes in Middle Tennessee, particularly against Muslims. He gives the recent arson at the site of a new mosque in Murfreesboro as a case with potential to be a hate crime, though no suspects have been identified.

The men who in 2008 burned down a mosque in Columbia have been convicted of arson in federal courts. But their crime was committed before the new hate crime law took effect.

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