FRANKFORT – Senator Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, has pre-filed legislation for the 2019 Regular Legislative Session that establishes hate crimes as a separate offense and designates criminal penalties.
The legislation is in direct response to the recent shooting deaths in Louisville, KY, and the rise in acts of violence motivated by bigotry and hate in other communities in the commonwealth.
“The current hate crimes legislation in Kentucky is useless. It provides no appropriate response to this insidious form of violence that targets people because of their racial, religious, ethnic, or other identified group affiliations. We are called upon to correct this,” said Senator Neal.
The bill Senator Neal pre-filed would create the separate offense of a hate crime. He said Bill Request 357 would:
- Repeal the current hate crimes statute, which carries no criminal penalty – it only provides for potential denial of probation or parole.
- Enacts in its place a new hate crime statute, which:
o Carries a penalty of 10 years or more
o Incorporates the offenses which were covered under the old statute
o Adds homicide offenses
o Classifies hate crimes under the violent offender statute, and
o Automatically denies probation or parole for a hate crime until 85% of the sentence is served.
Across the nation, hate crimes were on the rise for the third consecutive year in 2017. The FBI data showed an increase in hate crimes nationally went up 17 percent and there was an even bigger increase in anti-Semite attacks. Even though data shows a slight overall decrease in violent crime in America, the number of hate crimes still went up by more than a thousand reported cases.
There were 7,175 hate crimes in 2017 reported by law enforcement agencies around the country. That figure increased from 6,121 in 2016. Reporting hate crimes to the FBI is voluntary and remains greatly underreported. For instance, agencies such as Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reported there had been no hate crimes last year within its jurisdiction. Later a spokesperson for the department claimed there were actually 61 hate crimes last year. Hate crimes sometimes go unreported because victims do not always feel comfortable or trusting enough to report them, according to the FBI data.
“It is imperative that we address this issue now,” said Senator Neal. “This is not something occurring somewhere else – somewhere far from our homes. It is happening right here – in our communities.”
Louisville was the scene of a “hate crime” last month when a white man at the Jeffersontown Kroger fatally shot two black people, Maurice E. Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones. Senator Neal said the current hate crimes statute was inadequate in effectively charging the perpetrator.
The shooting in Louisville followed a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA where a white man killed 11 worshippers.
“Hate crimes are becoming all too common,” added Senator Neal. “Sadly, the acceptance of intolerance from our country’s leaders, most especially from our highest office of president, has intensified the problem and brought racial hatred out of the shadows.”
In 2015, hate crime statistics collected by the FBI saw an increase of 340 more hate crimes than in the previous year. Prior to 2015, the data showed that the numbers of hate crimes decreased over several years.
The FBI identifies hate crimes as those with an added element of bias, i.e. the victim is gay or black or Muslim.
Along with reporting, law enforcement needs to be able to identify hate crimes. Agencies across the country are also taking measures to improve the training to identify and report hate crimes.
“This sharp increase in hate crimes follows a slight decrease in overall violent crimes across America,” said Senator Neal. “As a state and country, we cannot allow hate crimes to persist. We must address this issue. Hate crimes violate the core values of Kentuckians and Americans.”
The FBI reports that nearly half of the hate crimes last year were against black people and 58 percent of those attacked because of religion, were Jewish.