In light of the events in Charlottesville, where a man is currently being held for running a young woman over with his car, killing her and injuring 19 others, states are starting to look closely at their current legislation on hate crimes. In New York, the state has proposed an expansion of the Hate Crime Statute in direct response to the crime which occurred in Charlottesville.
Governor Cuomo has led the charge to expand the hate crimes law currently in place. The new law would make it a crime to incite a riot that targets a specific class of people who are protected by anti-discrimination laws. Currently, the protected groups are: race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of a person, and it is only a hate crime if the person is committing a specific offense. Right now, inciting a riot is not on the list of ‘specific offenses.’ Additionally, the proposal would make criminal penalties more severe for rioting which targets these above groups. The D.A. of Manhattan supports this endeavor, as it would allow the prosecution to bring more charges against individuals who commit violence in the name of hate.
New York is one of 45 states which has laws criminalizing violence with bias or intimidations. Only Arkansas, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming do not – and Georgia’s hate crime statute was stuck down by the Supreme Court in 2004. States are continuously expanding these statutes to include more groups of people. Interestingly, in 2016, Louisiana was the first state which added police officers and firefighters for those who are protected under the state hate crime statue – primarily in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. With very few exceptions, there was little to no data suggesting that hate crimes against law enforcement had been a common problem at the time the law was passed. Some states have included homeless status as part of its hate crimes legislation.
As for New York, part of this call to expand the law could also be in response to the surge in hate crimes in 2017. The rate of crimes spiked over 100 percent as compared to the same dates last year, but arrests have failed to keep pace – only 31 arrests for the city’s reported 128 hate crimes. Some of it is difficult because many are property crimes, such as painting swastikas on buildings, and there are no witnesses. There have been 27 physical attacks, including one murder, by a man who traveled to New York City and stabbed Timothy Caughman, a black man, to ‘practice’ for a murder spree which he planned to target black men.
Hopefully, there will not be a need for this expanded law to ever be used; however, these incidents of protests turning into violent events have been occurring with increasing frequency in the last few years. Perhaps expansive legislation will deter violence from taking place at rallies and protests in the future.