Puerto Rico’s Attorney General has announced the creation of special committee to investigate hate crimes in the island territory, where advocates say gay and transgender people are the victims of an “epidemic” of violence.
The announcement was greeted by cheers from activists who complain the government has yet to invoke 2002 legislation establishing harsher penalties for crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Associated Press.
The new government committee involves agencies including the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Juan, police officials and the island’s civil rights commission, according to a statement release by the attorney general late Friday.
“With the creation of this committee, we will document the extent of hate crimes,” said Attorney General Guillermo Somoza Colombani, who added that the data will help develop policies to attend to the victims.
“I think this is a step in the right direction to start to collect statistics that are vital to curb the crisis of violence against the gay community in Puerto Rico,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and native of Puerto Rico.
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Serrano said 25 slayings of gay and transgender people in the past eight years may have been motivated by bias — including the decapitation in November of gay teen Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, whose killing inspired vigils as far away as New York and Chicago.