Hate Crime Legislation Discussed

From a law enforcement perspective, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff feels Utah needs law enforcement to step up and end hate crimes, but it needs hate- crime legislation in place to do that.

Panelists addressed the issue of hate crime legislation at the Hinckley Institute of Politics Tuesday.

The panel was held in memory of Sen. Pete Suazo, who was one of the leading voices in Utah for hate crime legislation before he died in an ATV accident in August.

The panel, moderated by Ted Wilson, director of the Hinckley Institute, featured members from the state government and business community.

?I have gotten a real education in the past weeks,? Shurtleff said. ?There is still a lot of hate and intolerance in our community.?

One week after the Sept. 11 attacks, Northwest Airlines refused to let three Arab American men fly. Shurtleff threatened to sue if Northwest didn?t formally apologize.

Shurtleff?s office was flooded with emails and phone calls of outraged citizens who felt Shurtleff was being unfair to Northwest.

?I was blown away by the hatred and vitriol I saw in these emails,? he said.

Now Shurtleff has more than 800 emails, and the majority of them support his decision, he said.

Shurtleff returned to the subject of hate crime legislation, describing hate crimes as an act not against an individual, but a whole group of people.

State Rep. David Litvack agreed with Shurtleff?s definition.

The impact of a hate crime is different than the impact of a non hate crime, Litvack said.

?There is a much larger impact and larger victimization involved with a hate crime,? he said.

?If the line between thought or speech and action is carefully developing that line, we can effectively create [hate crime] legislation,? he said.

James Evans, a local African American businessman, took a very different view on the issue.

?I am fundamentally opposed to hate crime legislation,? he said.

Evans is opposed to the legislation for many reasons, he said. He felt lawmakers should not base new laws on emotions, which hate crimes are deeply connected with, he said.

He also doesn?t want to be pigeon-holed into a group by the government, and he feels that hate crime legislation would do so.

?Who gets to decide what group I belong to?? he said.

Evans also feels that crimes should not be classified as more or less egregious.

?I fundamentally believe all violent acts are equally bad,? he said. ?I don?t accept hate crime legislation because someone harming someone else because they don?t like them is not inherently worse than a random crime.?

Darin Hobbs, assistant director of the Gay and Lesbian Center of Utah, turned the discussion away from racial hate crimes and focused on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual community.

Hobbs strongly disagreed with Evans, and felt that all legislation is based on emotion.

Jim Gonzalez, managing partner of the Target Group, knew Suazo for 22 years. He felt Suazo had a great sense of social justice, and fought for a level playing field for everyone.

?I can say without a doubt, that on the day of his death, Pete didn?t believe a level playing field existed,? Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez promised a continuous presence and effort at every legislative session until hate crime legislation passes.

He also said Republicans were the reason the legislation hasn?t gone through.

Republicans oppose the reference to hate crimes against a person because of their sexual orientation, he said.

?If we pass a hate crime bill without sexual orientation included, it?s a hate crime bill not worth having,? Gonzalez said.

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